METAIRIE, La. — For three years, Junior Galette has earned status as a cult hero among New Orleans Saints fans as a player with buckets of potential.
That potential, however, has never been fully realized. Though his playing time has increased each year, he hasn’t become a full-fledged member of the full-time playing club.
And when he was close to earning it a season ago, he was injured in a Week 9 game against Philadelphia. That high ankle sprain kept him out for the next month.
So maybe that’s why his goal for 2013 is less about specific tackles numbers and more about the number 16 – the total games in an NFL regular season.
“My individual goal is to stay healthy throughout a full season and just play as many reps and maximize my reps,” Galette said. “Play more than I’ve ever played. Those are my goals.”
Should he stay on the field, he just might fulfill the message board all-star potential some fans have thrust on him.
Nearly 19 percent of his career tackles have come as sacks. In 2012, he finished with 22 tackles, but had five sacks – third-best on the team in spite of missing those four games due to injury. In fact, his five sacks constituted 16 percent of the Saints’ total a season ago.
Though the team hasn’t donned pads, Galette already has impressed one newcomer, maybe the most important person to him.
“He’s a smart, hard-working kid,” first-year Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said of Galette. “He has come such a long way with (defensive line coach) Bill Johnson. We’re excited about him and his progress. He’s working real hard and he’s competing and that’s everything we like.”
Galette is transitioning this season from hand-on-the-ground defensive end to a standup outside linebacker in Ryan’s 3-4 defense.
He’ll be competing for playing time at the “Jack” linebacker position with Will Smith, among others. And so far, Galette likes what he sees.
“Now that I’m standing up, you can see the runs a lot better,” Galette said. “I see the whole field standing up as opposed to being down, (when) I can only see a ball and hands and feet. Now (I’m) standing up, you actually see the whole thing. Motions and everything. That helps me with the runs and everything.”
Galette said he’s “light years” better than he has been in the past, saying, “I thought I was good my rookie year but now I’m seeing plays before they actually happen and calling them out.”
The confidence of the bearded wonder, in other words, appears to be at an all-time high. Maybe that’s thanks to Ryan and the new defense.
“I feel like God blessed me with an athletic ability to do that and I’m just going to take advantage with Rob, who really likes me and really believes in me,” Galette said.