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How many RBs is too many? Saints' Payton will have to decide

METAIRIE, La. -- When rookie running back Mark Ingram went down with a heel injury, the Saints had Chris Ivory ready to step in.

Now, after missing the past two weeks, Ingram is back, giving New Orleans coach Sean Payton a tough decision to make -- keep four running backs active Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons or make one inactive.

A four-running back rotation is tough to maintain, but Payton wouldn't rule out the possibility of it.

"Three (running backs) are typically what we've carried on a game day, and yet we would certainly look at that each week with the opponent we're playing and maybe the plan we're putting in," Payton said.

Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles will likely be active, making the decision one of Ingram or Ivory.

Ingram led the team with 329 rushing yards until his Oct. 23 injury. Since returning from the physically unable to perform list on Oct. 30, Ivory has 54 yards on 14 carries.

Ingram said the key for him will be to make sure he doesn't re-aggravate his heel, injured in New Orleans' 62-7 win over Indianapolis.

"I'm making progress every day, just being smart," Ingram said. "It feels great."

Both Sproles and Thomas are vital in the passing game, a big reason the decision will come down to the other two running backs. They've combined for four touchdowns and 688 yards on 84 catches.

If Thomas had his way, however, Payton would keep all four active against Atlanta.

"We just keep hitting them with a combination with us four," Thomas said. "It'd be tough for a defense to stop us. You've got so many different things that each one of us can do."

Notes: Cornerback Tracy Porter returned to practice as limited Thursday after missing Wednesday with a sore neck and chest. Porter was carted off the field during Sunday's win over Tampa Bay after lying on the turf for more than 10 minutes. ... Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (left knee) missed his fifth consecutive practice. ... Also out were defensive end Turk McBride (left ankle), cornerback Patrick Robinson (stomach) and receiver Lance Moore (hamstring).

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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