METAIRIE — Fan favorite Junior Galette has carved a niche for himself since making the Super Bowl XLIV champion New Orleans Saints as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010.
He is quick, agile and possesses an instinctive ability to come hard off the edge, collecting a career-best 41/2 sacks in a reserve role last season. But there is more to his position in a four-man defensive front than rushing the passer.
“I told Junior, ‘You don’t want to be considered just a pass rusher, you want to be considered a ‘defensive end,’ ” Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson said after a recent training camp practice. “When he got here he couldn’t go on the field and win by using just his athletic ability. He’s had to learn some football. He’s had to learn offenses, protections and backfield sets.
“After going back and looking at last season’s cutups, I thought Junior did some very good things and was very effective and probably played a little better than I thought. He’s already an effective player who can get better because he has the ability. He just needs to keep working on all the run techniques and all those other things. So that’s where he’s at right now.”
Translated, that means Galette remains a work in progress, a player with untapped potential, a player who, in time, could become a full-time starter, or, at least, play a more prominent role in the Saints’ defensive line rotation.
That opportunity may come sooner rather than later for Galette and converted linebacker Martez Wilson, among others. Starting right defensive end Will Smith is expected to serve a season-opening four-game suspension for his role in the bounty scandal, leaving a sizable void in the starting lineup and in-game rotation.
To which Gallete said: “Somebody has to do it, why not me?
“I’m taking the same mindset I had as a rookie, the same mindset I had last year when Will was out for the first few games,” Galette said, referring to Smith’s season-opening two-game suspension for using a banned substance in 2008. “I came in and did a pretty solid job last year, but I have room to grow both as a pass rusher and a run-stopper.
“We really don’t know what’s going to happen to Will, but we’re ready for whatever.”
That business-like approach seems to capture the mindset of the entire Saints organization which has adopted a mantra from suspended coach Sean Payton, whose parting words to his team and coaching staff in April were simply: “Do Your Job.”
For Galette that means becoming a complete player for Johnson and first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, whose 4-3 scheme is vastly different than the one employed the past three seasons by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
“For a D-lineman, this new defense is night and day from Gregg to Spags,” said Galette, who is sporting a full beard these days prompting a “Fear The Beard” sign from one fan at training camp this week. “Spags is a guy who emphasizes on getting pass pressure from the up-front guys instead of getting pressure from the DBs and the linebackers, so this is a blessing for me.
“I know that I have an opportunity to make great things happen this year. I want to be a guy who can do it all — a pass rusher and a run stopper. Becoming a complete defensive end is definitely the next step for me in my career. I just don’t want to be a third-down guy and play special teams my whole career.”
Johnson would like to see Galette fulfill those dreams.
“When Junior came in here I didn’t know if he’d make it, but he keeps getting better and better,” Johnson said. “Last year, the talk was, ‘Do you believe where Junior is and how far he’s come?’ We’re off the floor and he’s moving in the right direction but he’s not finished by any means.
“There’s no finish line to this. Yes, I’m proud of where Junior is and how far he’s come, but is he the finished product? No. He does some things really well and other things not so well. He’s an explosive athlete, a natural athlete who has great instincts. He just needs to continue developing his skill set, and we’ll see where it goes from here.”