METAIRIE, La. – Junior Galette appears well on his way to spinning, sidestepping or even shoving his way into a starting role at his new position of outside linebacker for the Saints.
Coaches already knew Galette, a defensive end last season, had the potential to be one of their top pass-rushers. Still, they entered training camp uncertain whether the fourth-year pro was ready for the first team.
There is more to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense than getting after quarterbacks. Players must be strong against the run and effective dropping back to cover short passing routes.
Since projected starter Victor Butler tore knee ligaments in one of New Orleans' final offseason practices, likely sidelining him for at least most of the season, Galette has seized his chance to move up.
"I know one thing — I'm betting on Junior Galette," new Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said after a recent practice. "I think he's going to be special. I do. People can say whatever they want. He ain't sneaking up on anybody, but they're not going to be able to block him, either."
With the Saints having Sunday off, Galette was able to enjoy the break knowing that his performance in Saturday's "Black and Gold" scrimmage stood out.
He was credited with a pair of sacks, including the only one registered against Drew Brees and the first-team offense.
"He had some good rush snaps," coach Sean Payton said. "He is explosive and he is a big part of what we are planning on doing with the two outside guys (at linebacker)."
The Saints liked Galette because his quickness and lateral agility, which seemed exceptional for someone with his 6-foot-2, 258-pound frame. Other clubs also saw those attributes when he played three seasons at Temple, but he was dismissed from the team. Under school policy, he was held accountable for laptop computers stolen by one of his relatives who had been staying in his apartment. He then played out his college career at Division II Stillman College.
His draft status plummeted, but the Saints decided he was worth trying out as an undrafted rookie. He not only made the team but saw action in four games as a reserve defensive end in what was then a 4-3 (four linemen, three linebackers) scheme.
In 2011, he played in all 16 games and was credited with 4½ sacks, 11 quarterback hits and four tackles for losses. Then in 12 games last season, Galette had five sacks, nine QB hits, a forced fumble, and six tackles for losses.
"I am hungrier than before. I really don't know what it is. It is just me being able to look at myself in the mirror and seeing that I am not where I want to be," Galette said. "There is a sense of urgency. The fact is that we were one of the worst defenses in the league last year."
Indeed, the Saints had one of the worst defenses in NFL history, giving up a league-record 7,042 yards. That led Payton to bring in Ryan, who switched the scheme to a blitz-oriented 3-4, hoping that would better suit the strengths of the players on the roster. For Galette, the change meant switching positions.
"As long as I am getting more snaps and as long as I am on the field, I don't care what they put me as," Galette said. "I have really enjoyed it. You just have to keep learning."
Notes: The Saints were slated to have only one day off before returning to the field Monday, the first of four days of practice leading up to Friday night's preseason opener at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.