For Saints offense, success comes early — but not often

The New Orleans Saints opened and closed their Black and Gold Scrimmage on Saturday with touchdowns from running back Mark Ingram and fullback Austin Johnson.

However, between those scores — their only of the day — there were interceptions thrown, fumbles lost, sacks surrendered and offensive players who had to leave early after absorbing big hits.

The Saints’ offensive leaders didn’t seem too concerned about the poor execution. Afterward, they told reporters that the scrimmage was mostly to get them re-accustomed to playing at game speed and to force players to stay on the field for lengthy drives.

“This scrimmage is all about getting into football shape,” said Ingram, who scored on a 1-yard touchdown but then coughed up a fumble. “It’s very beneficial for everybody just to get ... that game tempo.”

Quarterback Drew Brees added: “At this stage, it’s just kind of getting ... as close to a game-type atmosphere as you can.

“You’ve got to be ready to put those (long) drives together in a game-like situation and endure that.”

The first drive of the scrimmage, pitting the first-team offense against the second-team defense, was precisely what Ingram and Brees were referring to. Ingram punched in a touchdown from less than three feet away on third-and-goal at the end of a 13-play, 70-yard drive.

During that drive, Ingram also had a 10-yard carry and a 10-yard reception, and he converted a third-and-short.

The bad news for the Saints was that the offense waited until the end of the scrimmage to score again. The good news is that mostly happened because the defense — led now by coordinator Rob Ryan after the unit surrendered the most yards in NFL history last year under Steve Spagnuolo — disrupted drive after drive with aggressive, opportunistic play.

The offense gave up sacks to outside linebacker Eric Martin, defensive end Akiem Hicks, defensive end Jay Richardson and outside linebacker Junior Galette. Cornerback Chris Carr intercepted third-team quarterback Ryan Griffin.

Then, inside linebacker David Hawthorne picked off a pass from second-team quarterback Luke McCown, who was trying to hit wideout Nick Toon on a slant. Carr defended and popped it into the air.

Martin also stripped Ingram on a run, and safety Rafael Bush recovered the fumble.

“I’ve got to fix that,” Ingram said. “As a running back, you’ve got to take care of (the ball). You can’t be on the field if you don’t take care of the ball.”

Furthermore, running back Travaris Cadet and wide receiver Joe Morgan couldn’t finish the scrimmage. Cadet limped off with the help of trainers after being hit by Martin on a kickoff return, and Morgan was helped off the field following a hit by rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro.

Coach Sean Payton didn’t address the injuries at the end of the scrimmage.

Cadet subsequently got on his Twitter account and said he was OK; Morgan tweeted that he was “currently doing well” and asked fans to not blame Vaccaro, saying the hit was a “routine tackle.”

Working with the first team, wide receiver Andy Tanner fell to the ground and grabbed his shoulder while being covered by Vaccaro, during a play in which Brees unsuccessfully threw a pass to another wideout. Tanner briefly left but returned.

Brees said he walked over to Vaccaro after Tanner went down to see what had occurred.

“Obviously, we’re trying to take care of our guys out here,” Brees remarked. “We’re not trying to get anybody hurt.”

Johnson treated the crowd of 5,000-plus fans who attended the 64-play scrimmage to a spectacular catch on his touchdown. With the third-team offense opposing the third-team defense, Griffin was flushed out of the pocket toward the right sideline on a second-and-goal from the 5, and he waved at Johnson to run to the corner of the end zone.

Johnson did, then leaped over outside linebacker Chase Thomas to catch an arcing throw from Griffin.

“(Fullbacks) don’t get many of those opportunities ... to actually go up and catch a fade-type ball over a linebacker,” Brees said about Johnson’s catch, the best of the scrimmage. “So they’re going to take full advantage of that.”

The Saints return to training camp Monday.