METAIRIE, La. — Asked whether he had concerns about Saints rookie running back Alvin Kamara’s decision-making, teammate Mark Ingram grinned momentarily.
Ingram, a former Heisman trophy winner at Alabama, saw the humor in questioning the cognitive skills of a player who once transferred from the Crimson Tide to historical rival Tennessee.
The truth, however, is that Ingram respects Kamara’s decision — and his talent.
“We talk about it, man, but at the end of the day, he did what’s best for him — and he’s here,” Ingram said. “There were a lot of backs he was there with (at Alabama) — T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and a number of guys, man. And at the end of the day, he made the decision that was best for him.”
The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Kamara never emerged as a big-name college player. Even after transferring to Tennessee, he often backed up Jalen Hurd.
Kamara said he doesn’t really have an answer for why he wasn’t more of a featured player in college.
“I’m here now, though, and I’m just focused on being a Saint,” he said.
Saints coach Sean Payton liked how Kamara’s skills fit New Orleans’ offensive scheme enough that the Saints traded up to select Kamara in the third round of last spring’s draft. Ever since his arrival at Saints practice, Kamara’s performance has elicited compliments from big-name veterans and coaches alike.
“He’s fast and he’s like kind of subtle with how shifty he is,” Ingram said. “He’ll have somebody in a short space and he’ll kind of give a little subtle juke and he’ll be out.”
Adrian Peterson said Kamara has “so much talent,” highlighting the rookie’s “really quick feet, great vison, great patience” and “crisp” route running.
“He looks like he is seasoned. He is picking up things quickly,” Peterson added. “He is going to be a heck of a ballplayer. I can tell you that.”
Kamara, who is also getting a chance to compete with veteran receiver Ted Ginn Jr. for the punt return job, has elicited gasps from onlookers at practice with sudden cuts that have left defenders flat-footed.
“Obviously, coach Payton has been using him a lot in practice and getting him in space against linebackers and finding mismatches,” said linebacker Alex Anzalone, a rookie linebacker out of Florida who also was drafted in the third round.
Anzalone played against Kamara’s Tennessee squad in college a couple times, but didn’t recall Kamara being a particular focus of Florida’s defensive schemes in those games.
“I don’t know what happened (at Tennessee), but I think he’s an awesome player,” Anzalone said.
Payton said “there are a lot of reasons” why certain role players in college thrive in the pros.
“He played a role at Tennessee. There was another really good running back there,” Payton said. “We try to evaluate the player and then envision a role.
“Sometimes you have highly productive college players that have trouble finding their niche at this level and there are other times where players have played and demonstrated some skills that you’re looking for, but maybe didn’t have the large production, that end up going on to have significant NFL careers,” Payton added. “When I was on that school visit (at Tennessee), they spoke highly of him and felt like he was a key contributor. The work out and all the things we did when we were there for a day were really impressive.”
The role the Saints envision for Kamara is similar to that previously held by Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush.
Kamara said he has studied video clips of Bush and Sproles as Saints in hopes of lessening his own learning curve.
The rookie said he “always knew” that catching the ball in space “was one of my strengths, and ending up here is a perfect situation.”
As for the praise from teammates and coaches, Kamara appreciates it, but by no means believes he has earned or figured out much of anything yet.
“I wouldn’t say I tune it out, but I try to just keep tunnel vision,” Kamara said. “I try to keep stringing days together and try to be as consistent as you can.
“When you think you know something, just go back over it. Just keep the learning process going.”
Notes: CB Marshon Lattimore, the Saints’ top overall draft choice, remained out of practice with what Payton has described as a minor knee injury. … RG Andrus Peat returned to practice after leaving the field a day earlier. … CB Delvin Breaux attended practice wearing his jersey but has not yet returned to on-field drills in pads.