In the midst of this season’s defensive renaissance, Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette may have figured out what his group couldn’t tackle in the recent past.
Galette said this week that it was endless hunger, the will to continue to want to improve. Take for example, his specialty: sacking quarterbacks.
Once you get better at your craft, earning local recognition — even some NFL-wide kudos — the goal is to find something else to get better at ... then even better ... and keep going until it’s time to collect online shout-outs from all the offensive linemen thrilled to read your retirement tweet.
Doesn’t matter if you’re a former undrafted rookie free agent like Galette or a 13th-year pro like San Francisco defensive tackle Justin Smith, who already has made it to four Pro Bowls.
Offenses morph yearly — sometimes weekly — offering new challenges for those determined to slow them.
Those are the kind of guys Galette said he’s surrounded by as the Saints (3-0) prepare to host the Miami Dolphins (3-0) on Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Young guys that, like him, were good enough to make the Saints roster out of training camp but were not projected as starters. Then injuries hit the defense like chicken pox in the first grade, sparking a youth movement.
The competition starts among themselves, like schoolboys racing from pole to pole, seeing who can dig up the biggest earthworm.
“There’s no days off,” said Galette, who this season has two sacks and seven tackles. He’s also over nagging injuries that ruined his 2012 campaign. “It’s like we get to the film room and we’re like, ‘I got off the ball faster than you.’ (That’s) the competitive nature I think we lacked in past years, to be able to take no days off.”
The Saints have enjoyed a pass rush with minimum risk. No blitzers needed from the secondary. No — Galette and his guys got this.
No wonder the unit has transformed from statistically the worst in league history a season ago to fourth in the NFL heading into Week 4.
The offseason switch from a 4-3 defense to 3-4 scheme better fits Galette, who’s equally electric and insightful, dynamic and dangerous with a mixture of speed and power to get around the edge.
“He works hard, but he has fun,” free safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “(But) he doesn’t take his job likely. He’s had to work for everything he has.”
Despite this unexpected start to the season, Galette and the Saints have been warned not to be deceived by their early-season success. It takes an entire season to become a dominant defense — not three weeks.
In other words, as Saints coaches emphasized this week with pieces of cheese around team headquarters, “Don’t take the cheese.”
The Dolphins offer intriguing opportunities for Galette. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 14 times in three games. During the same span, the Saints have eight sacks, led by defensive end Cameron Jordan’s three.
First, Galette said, the Saints must stop Miami running back Lamar Miller, who can get to the edge and create problems. If the Dolphins are forced into third-and-longs, it’ll be time for Galette to add to his sack count. After all, he’s trying to catch up to Jordan.
“We’re definitely champing at the bit,” Galette said. “Just like last week against Arizona when we were like, ‘We’ve got to put (Carson Palmer) on his back.’ ... We definitely feel like we have that advantage.”