METAIRIE, La. — It would be easy for Junior Galette to finally rest easy.
He signed a three-year contract in the offseason with the Saints and finally earned a starting spot.
But to expect Galette to do so would be to misunderstand the exuberant and energetic defensive standout.
“You don’t want to feel like you’re comfortable,” Galette said this week. “You want to progress and keep getting better to the point where you feel like, you know, you’re one of the best. Until I feel like that, I’m always going to have that mindset.”
Galette is tied for 13th in the NFL with nine sacks this season, a career high. He’s seventh on the team in tackles with 42, according to the coaches. His two forced fumbles are tied for the team-high.
And yet, it feels as if Galette hasn’t come close to reaching the apex of his potential.
“Every year I go into it like this is my year, that’s my mindset,” Galette said. “(My) rookie year, I wasn’t playing. (I) came in (and) this is my year I have to perform. That has to be your mindset. It takes time.”
When Galette came out of Stillman College, where he transferred after running into trouble at Temple, he was an unknown. His talent, though, showed up on film and that’s what Saints coaches saw and banked on.
“He’s obviously come a long way,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said. “He was a free agent we looked closely at. We saw speed and athleticism in the player.”
Despite that speed and athleticism, it took awhile to work his way into playing time, partly because he’s learning from his third defensive coordinator in four seasons.
He played in 16 games in 2011 and finished with 27 tackles and 4.5 sacks. A season later, under Steve Spagnuolo, he finished with 22 tackles and five sacks.
He knew as soon as Rob Ryan was hired as coordinator, however, that things would change. He knew it because Ryan made sure of it.
“When Rob got here, he actually called me and said he was looking at this film and didn’t really know who I was before,” Galette said. “He was like, ‘Wow, you can be special.’ I’m like, man, this guy is just building my confidence up.”
So far, the results have gone exactly how both Galette and the Saints have wanted. Pro Football Focus rates him as the eight-best 3-4 outside linebacker this season for those who have played 60 percent of their teams’ defensive snaps.
The league analytics website has him with just three missed tackles and 30 quarterback hurries.
This past Sunday, against Carolina, Galette showed his value off the edge, quickly chasing down Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and finishing with three sacks on the tough-to-bring-down passer.
He won’t, however, take sole credit for what he has done so far this season, tipping his hat to both defensive end Cameron Jordan, those playing in the interior of the line and the secondary for allowing him time to get in the right position.
“Primarily, the back end is doing their job which allows us to create pressure up front which is something we spoke about all offseason and we’re taking advantage of that,” Galette said.
And that’s yet another sign of Galette’s maturing in his fourth season.