METAIRIE — If second-year defensive end Junior Galette continues his disruptive ways, he could be promoted to a senior partner in the well-established New Orleans Saints’ pass-rush rotation.
A huge fan favorite of Who Dat Nation, Galette is tied with teammate Roman Harper for fifth in the NFL with 21/2 sacks after bagging a pair in the Saints’ 30-13 victory against the Chicago Bears on Sunday in the Superdome.
Galette twice sacked quarterback Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter when the Bears were making a futile attempt to cut into the final 17-point margin.
The Saints registered six sacks against the Bears, equaling their highest output in nearly three years (San Francisco, Game 4, 2008). In addition, the Saints racked up 10 quarterback hits, forcing Cutler to play with his head on a swivel for much of the game.
A similar pressure-packed effort from the Saints (1-1) could be pivotal Sunday when they host the undefeated Houston Texans (2-0) and quarterback Matt Schaub, who has been sacked four times and owns a 100.4 passer rating.
Kickoff is set for noon, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the re-opening of the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“(Galette) provides edge speed, especially when you’re playing at home, and he can get a jump on the snap, so that plays to his advantage,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He’s someone who’s focused in on his job, and he’s worked hard to get the snaps that he’s getting right now within our system.
“Like any young player who’s in his second year, there’s a learning curve that’s initially pretty steep. But we’ve seen his growth fundamentally, and certainly we’ve seen his growth from a maturity standpoint, and he’s handling it well.”
Sunday’s game marks the return of veteran Saints’ defensive end Will Smith, who was reinstated to the team’s 53-man roster this week after serving a two-game suspension without pay for violating the NFL’s drug policy in 2008.
The league’s disciplinary action also mandates that Smith forfeit two additional game checks, bringing the total cost of lost wages to approximately $1.4 million of his 2011 base salary of $6 million.
How Smith’s presence affects the number of defensive snaps given to Galette by Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams remains to be seen. Regardless, Galette is expected to remain humbled by his new-found success and maintain his infectious boyish enthusiasm for a game that he clearly loves to play.
“This is the best feeling,’’ said Galette, who was considered a long shot to make the team in 2010 after signing a 3-year, $1.215 million contract that included a $5,000 signing bonus as an undrafted rookie free agent from Stillman College via Temple University.
“This is basically what you dream of as a defensive end, to be on a team such as this, with an offense like ours,” Galette said. “It’s a blessing to be with such a great defense.’’
When informed by a reporter that he posted a single-game career best with two sacks against the Bears, Galette replied with a sheepish smile: “It’s a start."
He paused, as if searching for an appropriate response, and genuinely seemed embarrassed by the news.
“I feel like when you got guys like Sedrick Ellis, Aubrayo (Franklin) and Shaun (Rogers), who are being doubled all the time and keeping the edge wide open for you, teams have to single block me on passing downs, so I have to do my job,’’ Galette said of the team’s top three defensive tackles.
“The coaches tell us all the time that we have to win our one-on-ones or you don’t belong in this league. That’s what you have to do as a defensive end; you have to win those one-on-ones on third down. Everybody has to win those one-on-ones: myself, Turk (McBride), Jeff (Charleston), Cameron (Jordan), we all have to. We tell each other that we have to get after it, that the game is in our hands because teams are going to double our inside guys.’’
Though Galette’s primary role has come on special teams during his brief stint with the Saints, he is one of the team’s most popular players and a hot topic inside Who Dat Nation.
“I don’t have a Twitter (account) and I’m not on Facebook,’’ said Galette, a 23-year-old native of Port Au Prince, Haiti. “I try not to get involved in that stuff. But I’m glad, I’m happy. It’s a blessing to have so many people following you.
“They say when God is walking with you, everybody else will follow you. Clearly this is a message from God to keep working hard. I’m told that I have followers (in social media). I don’t even realize it. But it’s definitely a blessing. It’s definitely a humbling experience from where I came from; to be here right now. I’m basically in awe.’’
Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) was held out of practice again Friday and is doubtful for Sunday’s game. Coach Sean Payton said Vilma didn’t have a setback, but the knee, which Vilma injured last week against Chicago, didn’t come around as quickly as they had hoped. … If Vilma can’t play, fourth-year pro Jo-Lonn Dunbar will start in the middle. … Cornerback Tracy Porter (calf) practiced on a limited basis and is questionable; while safety Jonathan Amaya (shoulder), weakside linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee/foot), strong safety Roman Harper (ankle) and defensive tackle Tom Johnson (calf) are probable. Amaya was limited Friday, but Casillas, Harper and Johnson had full participation. … Wide receiver Marques Colston (shoulder) and kicker Garrett Hartley (hip) won’t play. … For the Texans, running back Arian Foster (hamstring) was limited in practice and will be a game-time decision, coach Gary Kubiak said Friday. Foster will be put through a series of drills on the field in warmups before a decision is made. Running back Derrick Ward (shoulder/ankle) has already been ruled out of the game. … Former Saints quarterback John Fourcade will greet fans at the Saints Hall of Fame Museum at Gate B of the Superdome’s Plaza level from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Sunday. The museum is open three hours before and for 45 minutes after each home game and is free to season-ticket holders.