Mark Ingram II's playing time may have changed, but his attitude hasn't.
The Ravens appreciate Ingram's professionalism and the example he sets for a talented group of young running backs, despite a decrease in playing time.
During the Ravens' Monday night 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns, Ingram was basically a spectator cheering on his teammates. He played the opening snap, when he took a handoff from Lamar Jackson then pitched the ball back on a flea-flicker to Jackson, who was sacked.
After that play, Ingram left the game and never returned. Rookie J.K. Dobbins (13 carries, 53 yards, one touchdown) and Gus Edwards (seven carries, 49 yards, two touchdowns) carried the running back load, and Ingram had the briefest appearance of his 10-year career.
Naturally, that led to questions about why Ingram didn't play more. But none of those questions came from Ingram. Head Coach John Harbaugh checked in with his veteran after the game and got the response he expected. Ingram wasn't stressing about the situation, happy the Ravens had won and looking forward to his next opportunity.
"It might be more difficult for me sometimes as it is for them, but guys want to play," Harbaugh said. "And I feel bad about that, because sometimes it's not so much part of the plan; it's just the way it goes.
"It was going well, those guys had a hot hand, and you just kind of decide to stay with it. If Mark gets more rest, which makes him better later, that might be better for us in the long run, too. He could've played a lot; it wasn't how we organized it. But I did talk to him afterwards – just briefly. And he's telling me, 'Don't worry about.' He's like, 'I get it, Coach. Don't worry about it. I'll be there when called upon.' And he's in great spirits, and he supports the guys, so you appreciate that about a guy like him. Mark is a great running back, and he's going to be a huge part of what we're doing going down the stretch here, and I think he's a real pro."
Ingram was on the sideline with his usual energy, hyping up Dobbins, giving the wide receivers a pep talk and celebrating with quarterback Lamar Jackson in a must-win game. It was like nothing was different for Ingram.
However, this has been an unusual season for Ingram, who had a Pro Bowl 2019 season in Baltimore with 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns. When the Ravens drafted Dobbins in the second round, it added another talented running back to a group that already included Ingram, Edwards, and Justice Hill.
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said that Baltimore would have a running back by committee system from the start of training camp and that has held true. However, Ingram has not carried the ball more than six times over the last four games, as Dobbins and Edwards have become the primary running backs.
For Ingram, the decreased workload has given him more time to recover fully from an ankle sprain he suffered Week 6 in Philadelphia. The injury forced him to miss two games, and he also missed the Pittsburgh Steelers game in Week 12 when he was on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Compared to last season when Ingram had 202 carries, Ingram's workload has dropped dramatically with 63 carries for 260 yards and two touchdowns. But if the Ravens turn to Ingram more down the stretch, he will be ready to go.
"Mark is an extremely valuable leader on our team," Roman said. "And just because he didn't get a lot of snaps doesn't mean he won't get a lot of snaps. He's a very productive player in this league. At certain things he does, he's right at the top of the league, so he's very valuable to us.
"Things just unfolded the way they did, and it's an opportunity for him to continue to stay fresh and get ready for a late-season push. Mark, as far as his attitude, he's nothing but a professional. He's a leader, and he does that by example and with his words. So, I'm really pleased with the opportunity to have Mark as a leader."
Ingram has been willing to mentor Dobbins since the day Baltimore drafted him, and the two running backs quickly became close. It remains to be seen which running backs will get the most opportunities down the stretch. But Dobbins appreciates what Ingram brings to the table, whether he's carrying the football or keeping the running back group focused on what's important – winning.
"He's my big brother," Dobbins said. "He's still going to play as hard as he can – no matter the role. That's with all of us – no matter the role. [Whether] we get one carry, two carries, 40 carries, we're going to play our hardest, and that's for each other. We just want to win the game, and I'm pretty sure that's what he's thinking."