No Saints player knows Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme better than outside linebacker Victor Butler, who this offseason followed his defensive coordinator from Dallas to New Orleans.
Still, Butler’s impact with the Saints has been minimized, now that he’s expected to miss most — if not all — of the 2013 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered at Tuesday’s OTA practice.
His on-field responsibilities will likely be inherited by Junior Galette and Martez Wilson, returning contributors that were seeking bigger roles. Less heralded options include undrafted rookie Chase Thomas and sixth-round pick Rufus Johnson.
Galette and Wilson played defensive end in last season’s horrid 4-3 defense and are transitioning to the new role, which includes playing with their heads up in a two-point stance and in pass coverage. Both will earn playing time as the Saints rotate fresh defensive players.
Only one, though, will be on the field during key moments.
In four NFL seasons, Butler had never amassed more than three sacks — but he played behind Pro Bowlers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. The Saints offered him an opportunity to make a name for himself as a starter.
Before Butler’s injury, Galette, a former 2010 undrafted free agent, talked about not being complacent. Even though he has earned a role in the defense, he wants to approach training camp as if he’s still fighting for a roster spot.
“I’m never relaxing,” said Galette, who is entering his fourth NFL season out of Stillman College. “That’s just the pride I have in myself as a man, no matter what it is. I didn’t relax when I made the final 53. I had my head on a swivel. I’m comfortable here, but when I get on the field, no. I want to leave it all on the line. You just never know what play could be your last.”
Butler can attest to that.
So can Galette, who was limited to 12 games last season because of a high ankle sprain. When he did play and was healthy, he produced. Against Kansas City, he had two sacks. Four weeks later, Galette registered a career-high six solo tackles at Tampa Bay.
Galette finished with five sacks and 22 tackles with a forced fumble.
Last week, Ryan praised Galette’s transition into the new defense.
“He is a smart and hard-working kid,” Ryan said. “He has come such a long way with (defensive line coach) Bill Johnson. We are excited about him and his progress. He is working really hard, competing and that’s everything we like.”
Wilson was a third-round pick of the 2011 NFL draft, and last season marked his best yet. The former Illinois standout blocked a punt against Washington, which Courtney Roby returned for a touchdown. In Week 5 against San Diego, he sacked Phillip Rivers late, causing a fumble which he recovered to seal the Saints’ first win of the season.
Wilson finished with three sacks and 18 tackles in 16 games.
Defensive end Cameron Jordan led the Saints last season with eight sacks, followed by Smith (six).
Wilson’s goals for this season are much grander.
“My goal this year is at least 10-plus sacks, at least five-plus interceptions, and all the other plays — just let them come to me,” Wilson said earlier this week, before Butler’s injury.
“If you are in the correct position, and you know the correct defense that’s called, and you know how to play defense according to how it’s coached, I think it is possible.”
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