Will Smith. Junior Galette. Martez Wilson.
Two will start this season for the Saints at outside linebacker. The third will likely be on the sideline watching — not playing — during the biggest moments of the season.
“The strongest man’s going to survive,” said Wilson, a third-year pro who hopes to be that playmaker.
The sudden loss during minicamp of free agent signee Victor Butler to a likely season-ending knee injury created a position battle that wasn’t supposed to be. Entering Friday morning’s opening session of training camp, Galette is no longer the underdog to start on the strong or weak side. He was on the field with the first team.
Not that Wilson was too far behind.
Both bring similar athletic talents to the field, albeit in different packages. Galette is power and agility with a dose of speed. Wilson is speed with a dose of power.
Barring an unforeseen setback during training camp, Smith is expected to start at Jack linebacker. Still, he will have to prove he can cover. Of the trio, Galette is expected to enjoy the easiest adjustment to pass coverage responsibilities.
Wilson wants this fall to be his breakout season. In 2012, he split time as a backup defensive end and on special teams, finishing with 18 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble and recovery.
His biggest play occurred during the final seconds of a 31-24 win against San Diego in Week 5. Wilson sacked-stripped quarterback Philip Rivers and recovered the fumble to preserve the Saints’ first win of the season. Three weeks later, Wilson had four tackles and one sack of Michael Vick during a 28-13 win against Philadelphia.
Now he just wants to do more, and on a consistent basis.
“I’m going to do all the proper things I’m supposed to do as a professional,” said Wilson, a third-round pick in 2011. “And do what’s right so I can earn my (starting) role.”
The Saints must believe in him too. After the loss of Butler, the franchise held off on signing any free agents at the position.
“That question always exists if you get an injury and you lose somebody like a Victor Butler, then you start kicking yourself about maybe a move that you contemplated but didn’t make,” general manager Mickey Loomis said this week. “But I feel good about our roster. We have a good mix of veteran players and of older players as well as a lot of young guys that are hungry and have the right type of talent and attitude.”
Coach Sean Payton said the Saints “looked closely” at signing someone, but opted to utilize what they had.
“We are going to develop the young players that we have, some of the new players that we have, and some of the veteran players,” Payton said. “We have a few guys that have some versatility that can go outside and play inside.”
Not surprisingly, last season’s horrid defense was tied for 25th in the league with 30 sacks.
Their total growth will determine how aggressive defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is on game days. Ryan planned to utilize Butler, who played under him in Dallas, in a number of pass rushing packages. And four speed rushers meant the Saints could rotate a duo without much drop-off.
“Man, all that together would have been amazing,” Wilson said.
Still could be.
“It still will be,” he added. “It still will be.”
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