METAIRIE — Running back Mark Ingram joined his teammates for the first day of the New Orleans Saints’ three-day minicamp Tuesday.
Ingram, who is entering the final year of his contract and faces a four-game suspension at the start of the regular season, had skipped the team’s 10 voluntary Organized Team Activities.
After practice, Ingram addressed the various off-the-field topics, saying his absence was not a contract holdout and that he still thinks he was wrongly suspended for a violation of the NFL’s ban on performance enhancing drugs but that he’ll be ready and raring to go after the suspension.
He said he has kept head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis informed of his workouts in the Boca Raton, Florida, area.
“I’m not holding out,” Ingram said. “I was working on some things that I felt I needed to get better at that I could do better on my own. Nothing against our program. I told Sean and I told Mickey everything that I was doing every step of the way and I was working my butt off on my own.
“There were a number of things I could focus on — my speed, my explosion, keeping my weight down, taking care of my body. I feel like the stuff I was doing while I was away made me a better player. I felt like I could help the team more by making sure I was my best self.”
Ingram has rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons, and last season he and Alvin Kamara, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, became the first teammates in NFL history to both gain more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season.
Payton has said the Saints will try to mitigate Ingram’s absence without giving all of his touches to Kamara.
Veterans Trey Edmunds, Jonathan Williams and Daniel Lasco as well as rookie sixth-round draft choice Boston Scott from Baton Rouge via Louisiana Tech are competing behind Ingram and Kamara.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Ingram said of the suspension. “I’m going to be back. Those guys need to step up and I’m sure Alvin and the rest of the guys are going to do a great job of preparing an putting themselves in position for success. I’ll be rooting on my teammates real hard.”
Former Saints running back Tim Hightower had a tryout Tuesday and former Chiefs and Broncos running back Jamaal Charles reportedly will visit with the team Wednesday.
When Ingram was suspended last month, his agent released a statement saying the substance for which Ingram tested positive after last season were not performance enhancing and is acceptable with an NFL exemption, but an arbitrator ruled against Ingram.
“I fought it hard and I don’t agree with it, but I’m going to serve my suspension and I’m going to be ready when it’s time,” Ingram said. “Hopefully we’re 4-0 when I come back, but I’ll be back and I’ll be ready.
“I’m looking forward. I’m not looking back. I’m going to be working my butt off clearly and preparing myself to jump right in immediately and make an impact.”
Payton said Ingram is in “good shape,” and quarterback Drew Brees said he was unconcerned about Ingram’s absence during OTAs.
“I know he’s been training hard, working hard, preparing himself for the season,” Brees said. “I do not think it is distracting anybody really. So we’re not worried about Mark or his readiness to play when it’s time.”
Payton said there’s nothing new on contract talks with Ingram.
“I’d love to stay in New Orleans,” Ingram said. “That’s (the Saints’) decision. If they see me in the future we’ll get something done, but I have one year left. Whether it happens now or later, it’ll come around.”
Payton said DE Marcus Davenport, the Saints’ No. 1 draft choice, will undergo minor thumb surgery after mini-camp ends Thursday. … WR Michael Thomas, who participated in the OTAs, has an undisclosed excused absence from mini-camp. … DE Cameron Jordan, who’s recovering from off-season foot surgery, is absent because his wife is having a baby.