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When the Ravens signed free agent safety Earl Thomas III and running back Mark Ingram II around the same time in March, Thomas was expected to have the biggest impact.

But I always thought Ingram would play the more important role.

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Thomas might be headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Ravens were in need of a safety, especially after allowing Eric Weddle to leave. But Ingram was going to be the final piece for a strong running game.

He has been that player, and more.

On Monday night, Ingram ran 15 times for 111 yards as the Ravens trounced the Los Angeles Rams, 45-6, to win their seventh straight game. Before the game, Ingram, in his ninth season, had rushed for 667 yards on 136 carries. He had also scored eight touchdowns.

His worth is invaluable to the Ravens.

Not only is he one of the team’s top offensive weapons as a running back, but he also has become an integral part of the passing game. He’s become quarterback Lamar Jackson’s pump-up guy and has made backup Gus Edwards a better running back.

He has become the Ravens’ modern-day version of Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe as a leader on offense, maybe even more so than Jackson.

The Ravens had a strong running game last season with both Edwards and Jackson, but if a team is going to have such power, they are going to need two backs. Edwards had a strong rookie season, but Ingram was proven.

His body also had basically two years of rest after he lost his starting job and shared carries in New Orleans with Alvin Kamara. Now, he’s made the Ravens and Jackson better.

Ingram looked like basically an inside runner early in the season, but that has changed. At times, Ingram has switched roles with Jackson, with the quarterback darting inside on runs and occasionally pitching to Ingram on the outside on option plays.

That’s just one difference. Here’s another.

The Ravens thought rookie running back Justice Hill was going to develop and become the third-down back as a passing threat out of the backfield. But Ingram has taken over that role, too. On Monday night, he caught a 7-yard touchdown pass and had two touchdown catches last week against the Houston Texans.

Ingram is the opener and closer on this team.

He sets the tone with tough runs early and closes the game with bruising carries in the fourth quarter. Against the Rams, Ingram just kept running through more and more tacklers.

Throughout this season, Ingram has become the consummate professional, one of the first to practice and one of the last to leave. Because of that approach, he has been a strong influence on both Edwards and Hill. Before training camp started, Edwards lost 15 pounds just to provide more competition for Ingram.

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Ingram has become the Weddle of the offense, but with more skill. Weddle was great for public relations and working with young players last season. He had insight that only a veteran could share with inexperienced teammates.

Ingram has the same approach. This is only his first year with Jackson, but no player promotes Jackson as much as Ingram.

He has become a walking public relations department for No. 8.

But unlike Weddle, Ingram still plays at a high level. His runs pump up his teammates and gets them emotional on the field and on the sideline. Players like him because of his upbeat personality and intensity.

Thomas might be headed to the Hall of Fame, but Ingram is making a name in Baltimore. He is a major part of the makeup of this offense and this team.

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