METAIRIE - After beating some awfully long odds to earn a roster spot with the New Orleans Saints last summer, defensive end Junior Galette knew he would probably have to work harder this year to keep it.
When he was signed by the Saints just after the 2010 draft, Galette was an unknown player with a lot of raw talent and some head-turning game clips on the internet from his three-year stay at Temple University.
The images on YouTube instantly turned Galette, a 6-foot-2, 270-pounder with good speed, into a favorite among Saints fans who turned out to watch open practices during minicamp and training camp.
Still, he knew he had a lot of work to do to earn his “dream job.”
In addition to learning the pro game on the fly, Galette had to convince Saints officials and coaches that he’d put some transgressions at Temple behind him and that a year at tiny Division II Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., had helped him learn his lesson.
Even then, Galette was anything but a polished player.
“He’s got tools and a great motor, but he’s raw ? raw,” defensive line coach Bill Johnson said of Galette one week into last year’s training camp.
Galette, however, overcame myriad obstacles and won a roster spot. But he was active for just four games and played primarily on special teams in the games he dressed out for.
“Of course, there was definitely a learning curve coming from Stillman,” Galette said recently. “I went from there to being in the NFL with the defending Super Bowl champions.
“Most definitely, there was a learning curve,” he said. “But I grasped that and I feel like I’m just doing my part now. That’s all I can do. I’m doing my one-eleventh for that defense.”
Galette has played mostly with the second- and third-team defenses in the first three weeks of training camp, but is playing with more confidence even though he didn’t have the benefit of working this offseason with his coaches because of the 4-1/2-month lockout by owners.
But Galette did get to work extensively for six weeks with many of the Saints veterans on both sides of the ball.
While it was extremely beneficial to continue his growth at this level, he said it was the same.
“I just feel like football is football, it’s the same game I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old,” Galette said. “Nothing really changed. Yeah, the bodies and the people and the speed have changed, but football is football.
“I grasped the play book even more, and I’m still learning. I’ve got a year in the (pro) game under my belt, and I just feel like there are a lot of opportunities for me this year.”
That’s still very much up in the air, however.
Galette actually may have a tougher time making the 53-man roster this year. The Saints brought in two new players at that position - first-round draft pick Cameron Jordan and unrestricted free agent Turk McBride - to go with holdovers Will Smith, Alex Brown and Jeff Charleston.
His coaches like what he’s doing, however, as both Johnson and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams have talked about the progress Galette, who added 10 pounds to his frame this spring, has made.
Williams was certainly impressed in the first week of camp.
“I just about busted a blood vessel in the side of my ear last year being all over Junior,” Williams said. “This year, I haven’t said one thing. It’s our responsibility as coaches that when you get a young player, to teach them what it’s like to be a pro.”
As his position coach, Johnson also sees a big difference.
“You know what, Junior is progressing,” Johnson said. “He’s progressing and he’s being pushed, and he’s accepting it. He’s accepting coaching and he’s a prepared student, that’s how I feel about it.
“Last year, he was all over the place. You could coach all you want and it was just going over his head. Now, he’s starting to take a little coaching and we’re starting to see a little progress. He has really become more of a professional and a mature kid, and he’s got some talent.”
Galette said he certainly feels differently about himself.
“I wouldn’t call last year a redshirt year because I got in and did get some action,” he said. “It was limited, but it was definitely some action.
“I got a year under my belt and that year was so important for me. I’m just ready to show what I can do out there.”