LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram has ridden every roller-coaster he could get to at Disney World the past few days.
Space Mountain. The Incredible Hulk. Expedition Everest.
His favorite? Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which reaches nearly 60 mph.
The thrill rides are probably the only full-speed adventures Ingram will find this week.
Even though the Pro Bowl has more than 30 first-time participants, the NFL’s annual all-star game Sunday is expected to be another up-tempo walkthrough filled with big plays and plenty of points. Avoiding injuries is more important than eluding criticism for looking little like a normal game.
“We’re out here, first and foremost, to have a little fun and put on a show for the fans,” Ingram said. “And we don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
The Pro Bowl returns to Camping World Stadium in nearby Orlando for the second straight year. The league has one year remaining on a three-year deal to play in the tourist city that’s home to Disney World. Teams practiced all week at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex.
It was a family affair, highlighted by Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown bringing their kids along for loosely structured practices.
Brees, Brown and others have done this before.
All the newcomers have simply followed the veterans’ lead and asked questions along the way. The main one: How hard do you play in the game?
“You don’t know,” Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith said. “You’ve got to either decide if you’re going to come here and play how you play or you’re going to come out here and be a Pro Bowler.”
Smith spent as much time as anyone signing autographs after every practice, working his way across one side of the field one day and the other the next. He figured giving fans his time might offset for what they will see on the field Sunday.
“From the outside looking in, I can see how people would want to see the best go against each other,” Smith said. “But from the inside out, we just finished a long season and this is more of a celebration for doing something great, ‘Your hard work paid off this season. Y’all come out and have fun and take a little bit off your bodies.'”
None of the Pro Bowl players can afford to get hurt at this point in the season, especially with workout programs about 10 weeks away and free agency about six weeks out.
“I’m going to come out here and enjoy myself, have fun,” Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “I’m a competitor at the end of the day. I’m going to play a little bit, but I’m not going to come out here and go too hard on nobody. Want to make sure everybody stays healthy.”
Defense has typically been an afterthought in the Pro Bowl.
Before last year, the teams averaged a combined 73 points over a 10-year span. The AFC, however, won a low-scoring matchup (20-13) in 2017.
“We’re going to be competing,” Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye said. “We’re going to make this game fun. I know a lot of people talk about how the Pro Bowl is kind of watered down and everything, but (the coaches) already told us this is what we play, this is what we love, so we’re going to be out there trying to win.”
Not everyone is taking the same approach.
Saints rookie running back Alvin Kamara joked that he’s going do “whatever Antonio Brown says” to do in the game.
“It’s still a game,” Kamara said. “There are guys out there that want to showcase their skills. To each his own. Everybody has a different pace they go at, so we’ll see.
“We’ll see when we get out there. I’ll test the temperature and go from there.”