Texans' 'super healthy' Mark Ingram determined to play 'best football'

Mark Ingram busted through the line of scrimmage after receiving a direct snap, executing a clever trick play by accelerating through a gaping hole to dash away from linebacker Brennan Scarlett for a touchdown run that represented a knockout blow to the Texans’ defense.

A former black belt in martial arts, Ingram celebrated the score last September by tossing the football into the wall behind the end zone and delivered a roundhouse kick and punched an image of the Texans’ mascot.

The 30-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1 boosted the Ravens in a resounding victory at NRG Stadium. It also represented the high-water mark of an extremely disappointing season for the veteran running back.

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Ingram plummeted on the Ravens' depth chart last season behind J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and dealt with a high ankle sprain, rushing for just 299 yards and five touchdowns. The former Pro Bowl runner was cut in January after being inactive in the playoffs and four of the final five games of the Ravens’ regular season.

Signed to a one-year, $3 million contract that includes a $500,000 signing bonus, Ingram, 31, is determined to revitalize his career with the Texans as he reunites with coach David Culley, a former Ravens assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and receivers coach.

Healthy again, Ingram is looking to prove he still has a lot left in his body after gaining a career-low 349 yards from scrimmage last season and being cut two years after signing a three-year, $15 million contract.

“Yeah, that was bad how that ended,” Ingram said. “It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t ideal for how I wanted that season to go or how I thought my season would go and for me to be able to help my team in the playoffs and just winning. It was tough. but the blessing in disguise was that my body, I feel super healthy. I feel super explosive. I’m springy right now. I feel like I’m going into this off season heathier than I have in the past few offseasons. Just my body feels great.

“I’ve been training, I’ve been working and my body feels great. I’m running around good and moving good, so I’m just excited I can get a great, strong offseason of working and training and taking care of my body to put my best foot forward. I still feel like I can play my best football. I feel like my best football is still ahead of me. Unless you look at my birth certificate, you can’t tell that I’m 31 years old by the way I play, by the way I run, by the way I move. I feel like my game still has a lot left in the tank and I’m excited to go out there and prove that.”

The Texans have assembled an experienced, revamped backfield by retaining starter David Johnson on a restructured contract and signing Ingram and Phillip Lindsay. All three are former Pro Bowl selections.

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A former New Orleans Saints first-round draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, Ingram has plenty of financial incentives included in his contract.

Ingram can make up to $500,000 more through a $31,250 per game active roster bonus. He can earn an additional $500,000 through incentive clauses. Ingram can earn $250,000 if he rushes for 750 yards and another $250,000 if he rushes for 1,000 yards.

Known for his infectious personality and leadership qualities, Ingram has made a strong initial impression on Texans running backs coach Danny Barret.

“He’s a leader, a natural leader,” Barrett said. “Just his ability to be around the guys and talk about things from his experience, that’s one of the first things that we talked about from day one, from your experience what does it take in a room like this. He voiced his opinion about some things, and everybody was in agreement and vice versa. Everybody kind of brought something to the table like that, but I think that’s the key for himself in his career right now being a leader, but also he’s a guy that’s going to work hard each and every day.”

In 2019, Ingram was a force in the Ravens’ backfield. He generated 1,265 yards from scrimmage, including 1,018 rushing yards, and scored 15 total touchdowns with 10 touchdown runs and five more as a receiver.

Last year, though, Ingram had just 50 carries in the first six weeks of the season. After he suffered a high-ankle sprain and Dobbins continued to excel, Ingram was phased out of the Ravens’ offense. During the final eight weeks of the season, he rushed for just 74 yards on 22 carries.

The Ravens had the top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL last season and saved $5 million against the salary cap by releasing Ingram.

Ingram is known for his downhill running style and has rushed for 7,324 career yards and 62 touchdowns and is versatile enough to catch 260 career passes for 1,895 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Ingram joins a team that needs to resurrect its running game. The Texans gained just 91.6 rushing yards per game to rank 31stoverall in the NFL and had only 344 runs for the fewest in franchise history. Gaining 1,466 yards on the ground overall, it was the second lowest in franchise history behind the 2002 expansion Texans’ 1,347 yards.

Ingram figures to provide a complementary role with Johnson and Lindsay. The three backs have 19 years of combined experience.

“Being a part of the backfield with David Johnson and Phillip Lindsay, I’m excited about that opportunity,” Ingram said. “The more backs that you have that can be great and excel in many different ways – I appreciate their games. I’ve been a fan of David Johnson and I told him that. I’ve been a fan of Phillip Lindsey and I told him that. I admire the way they play the game a lot. I admire their professionalism and I think all of us have played the game at the highest level in this league. For us to be able to compete and make each other better, but most importantly make our team better, is nothing but an advantage for us.”

All three backs have different styles of play.

Johnson is a tall converted wide receiver.

Lindsay is undersized, but is elusive and runs hard despite being lighter than most backs.

Ingram has a lot of power in his 5-9, 210-pound frame and is a proven red-zone presence.

“I think all three of us do everything really well,” Ingram said. “I think you’ve got guys that can run inside well, run outside well, come out of the backfield, run great routes and catch the ball well and be dangerous with the ball in their hands in space.

“I don’t know necessarily what my role is going to be. I know I’m prepared to be able to do the entire playbook from running routes out of the backfield, lining up out wide, from picking up pass protection, if we’re running power or inside zone or outside zone or toss sweeps – whatever is needed I feel like my ability will be able to do whatever the offense is asked of me. Nothing’s going to be given to you. You’ve got to earn everything. We’ll see how everything plays out but I’m going to be working my butt off to be the best I can be for my team.”

One of the primary reasons Ingram joined the Texans was his background with Culley and the fact that they believed in him coming off of a rough season statistically.

“Honestly, they wanted me,” Ingram said. “They called and I flew in for a visit and they expressed their interest in me. Obviously just going somewhere that wants you, somewhere that wants you to be there, that’s always a good connection right there in general.

“Obviously, coach Culley, I was with him for two years in Baltimore. He made it an easy transition and an easy decision for me because I know what he’s about and I know the type of man he is. He was very encouraging and a positive influence to me in my two years in Baltimore. Just to be able to play for him and help him out here in Houston, it was a great opportunity and I’m excited about it.”

Ingram, who purchased a minority ownership stake in the MLS franchise DC United this offseason, intends to provide a positive role model for his teammates.

“I just try to be myself," Ingram said. "I can’t be anybody else. I can be me, 100 percent authentic and 100 percent genuine. I had great teammates that accepted me and took me in and let you build relationships with. I go hard for my people. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re my people, if I love you and you’re my teammate or my friend or my family, I’m going to go all out about it.”

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.

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