Once upon a time Junior Galette was Kasim Edebali. Or Seantavius Jones. Or Lawrence Virgil. Or Tobias Palmer.
Undrafted free agents, anonymous to most fans, knowing that their chances to make a lasting impression are both limited and dwindling, especially with the initial roster cut less than a week away, maybe even sooner for some of them.
Saints today. Gone tomorrow.
But not always.
“I had full confidence in myself that I belonged in this league,” said Gallette, who has gone from Division II Stillman College to being one of the NFL’s top pass rushing threats in just four years. “I got up every morning saying, ‘I’m not going to be the guy who gets cut today.’
“You’ve got to have that edge, that chip on your shoulder. And you learn quickly that everything in this league is earned, not given.”
Still, Galette knows that not all of his current, and temporary, teammates from similar backgrounds are cut from the same cloth he is.
They may have gotten this far — an NFL training camp — and made it through two preseason games with a third, Saturday at Indianapolis, to show that they, too, belong in the league.
And although they don’t like to admit it, they can both size up the competition at their position and play the remorseless numbers game.
By 3 p.m. next Tuesday rosters, now at a maximum of 90, must be reduced to 75. By 3 p.m. Aug. 30, it’s 22 more in order to get the final 53. The next day, eight can be put on the practice squad, although they can come from other teams, as can the final 53 for that matter.
Few that do not make the initial cut wind up elsewhere. For many, the final one is a second or even third time to come up short. Rafael Bush was waived twice by Atlanta and once by Denver before the Saints claimed him off waivers in 2012. Now he’s a fixture in the secondary.
But for most, it’s “Hard Knocks” time.
“These are the guys you build relationships with from March through August,” Galette said. “So you feel sorry for them and hope for the best for them.
“At the same time, this is the business we’re in. And just because you didn’t make it here doesn’t mean you can’t go somewhere like Jacksonville and do.”
Marcel Jones knows the feeling.
An offensive tackle who was the Saints’ seventh-round pick in 2012, Jones spent the entire season on injured reserve after he suffered a late-season knee injury.
Last year, Jones was part of the final cut, but was signed to the practice squad where he spent the season.
This time, thanks to injuries to starting guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, he’s gotten to start the first two exhibitions and has acquitted himself well enough to make The Advocate’s projected 53-man squad.
“It’s pretty gut-wrenching to get cut,” Jones said. “This is the game you love and you want to make the team so that your loved ones are proud of you.
“You still feel like you’re part of the team when you’re on the practice squad because you’re going against the ‘1s’ every day. And you have to take advantage of that to get better yourself while putting your best work on film.”
That last part, Saints offensive line coach Brett Ingalls said, is a message he passes along to his chargers before every exhibition game.
“We tell them you’re not just competing to make our team, but everybody in the league is watching these games,” he said. “You may get cut, but if you’ve got something good on film, the chances are you’ll get picked up.”
Case in point, Ingalls adds is tackle Bryce Harris. Cut by the Falcons in 2012 and placed on their practice squad, Harris was signed by the Saints nine days later. Now, he’s the Saints’ top backup tackle.
The first cuts used to come after the second preseason game, but it was changed to the third a few years back.
Saints coach Sean Payton said he could make the 90 to 75 cut now, if need be, and indicated there could be a couple of moves before Saturday.
“Those are the kind of discussions you have right now,” he said. “On occasion, we’ve reduced the squad before we needed too.
“But having the cuts coming up makes this game very important.”
It is for a player like Edebali, an outside linebacker from Boston College, who grew up in Germany and because he played for two years in a prep school turned 25 on Sunday.
“He’s a lot more mature than I was when I was a rookie,” Galette said. “I look at the way he’s always running to the ball.
“That’s somebody who’s showing what he can do and why he belongs on every play. We have at least four or five free agents make this team every year, and I think he’s going to be one of them.”
And if that happens, Galette added, Edebali can celebrate the way Galette did back in 2010.
“They told Jon Vilma and me Joe Vitt wanted to speak to us,” Galette recalled. “I knew they weren’t cutting Jon, but usually when the coach wants to see you, it’s bad news.
“But coach Vitt just talked to me about how they appreciated how much I played with an edge and warned me about never getting complacent. I realized then I’d made the team and asked him if he minded if I screamed a little to get it off my chest.”