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Chris Ivory: New Orleans Saints shouldn't bench me

New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles returned to practice Wednesday, setting off speculation about the backfield rotation if he can play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

The Saints nearly doubled their rushing average the past two weeks without Sproles (72.6 yards per game through seven games; 144 yards per game the last two). Much of that has been credited to the vicious running style of Chris Ivory, who had quite possibly the run of the season last week, a 56-yard touchdown gallop against the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons.

Ivory was asked Wednesday if he believed his performance the past two weeks would make coaches think twice about sending him back to the bench when Sproles returns.

"Yeah, they would," Ivory said, according to The Associated Press. "But I think as long as I'm doing the right things and get a plus on the plays that I get, I think that just helps me out and allows them to give that much more trust in me."

Ivory has 17 rushes for 120 yards, an average of 7.1 yards per carry, the past two games.

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The Saints' ground game doesn't consist of just Ivory and Sproles, however. Pierre Thomas has averaged almost 5 yards per carry and taken over some of Sproles' screen-game duty. Mark Ingram also has seen his yards per carry jump the past two weeks, from 2.9 to 4.8.

Ingram dismissed the idea that Ivory's play has inspired him to run harder.

"Seeing him run hard is great, and he's a great runner, but just because he runs hard doesn't mean he makes me run harder," Ingram said. "I mean, I run hard anyway."

The abundance of good running backs is a problem for the Saints when they're all healthy, as teams are reluctant to leave more than three backs on the active 45-man roster. It's a problem many NFL teams would like to have, but interim coach Joe Vitt now might have to decide to send his starter, his first-round draft pick or his home-run hitter to the bench with Sproles' return.

Follow Kevin Patra on Twitter @kpatra.

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