The New Orleans Saints may have been dealt an unfortunate hand with yesterday's reports of outside linebacker Junior Gallete's pectoral injury. The pass-rushing specialist posted double-digit sack totals in each of the past two seasons, making this loss especially painful to the Saints defense. Now, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will have to turn to a combination of unheralded veterans and unproven young talent, to make up Galette's production.
According to NFL Network's Albert Breer, Junior did not injure himself on the practice field, but in the weight room:
Breer reported the Saints are still doing tests and fear the injury is significant. The 27-year-old pass rusher suffered the pec injury lifting weights, according to Breer. Galette was absent from the team's OTA session on Thursday. Surgery for a pectoral muscle generally sidelines a player for an average of five to six months, which would put Galette on the shelf for the bulk of the season.
It would stand to reason that Galette would have seen less overall playing time in 2015, playing the majority of the time on passing downs. His weakness in defending the run had become increasingly more exposed last season, leaving little doubt that Galette would be best served as a pass-rushing specialist, primarily defending likely passing situations.
Although it's easy to ask why a "specialist" would be making over $10 million per season on average, it's hard to argue that he isn't proficient at what he specializes in, which is getting to the quarterback. Galette can be penciled in for at least 8 sacks per season before it even starts, and has eclipsed that number over the past two seasons. That type of production may prove difficult to duplicate.
Here is a look at Galette's career stats since joining the Saints in 2010:
Galette has mostly faced his issues off the field rather than on it. Behavioral and judgmental red flags have been raised since last season, but on the field, Junior has been primarily a big contributor to a defense in need of consistent contributions.
Now Galette's duties fall to rookies Hau'oli Kikaha and Davis Tull, second year OLB's Ronald Powell (1 tackle, no sacks) and Kasim Edebali (15 tackles, 2 sacks), and veterans Parys Haralson (23 tackles, 3 sacks in 2014) and Anthony Spencer (12 tackles, 1/2 sack in 2014). On the surface, this crew leaves a lot to be desired.
Kikaha was an absolute pass-rushing machine in college, but he's an unknown commodity in the NFL. Tull may very well see time inside and outside at linebacker in 2015. While freakishly athletic, Tull is considered far from a top-flight pass rusher. Powell's stat line of one tackle in 2014 speaks volumes for where he needs to improve, and Edebali was likely slotted to be a reserve linebacker at most. Haralson is specifically considered a run-stopping specialist, and frankly it's surprising he even recorded three sacks in 2014.
The wild card is Spencer. In most unofficial depth charts, Spencer was penciled in as the starter over Galette, as he is considered a more well-rounded outside linebacker. Spencer has been equally adept at stopping the run and rushing the passer. Much was riding on Spencer returning to his pre-injury 2012 form under Rob Ryan, and now that sentiment is amplified. It stands to reason that Spencer will be asked to do most of the heavy lifting during Galette's prolonged absence.
If Spencer can regain most of his past form under Ryan, and Kikaha can display his pass-rushing brilliance on the grand stage, the Saints may be just fine after all. But those are some awfully big if's. Things will really have to break right in New Orleans to overlook Galette's pass-rushing impact. Any way you slice it, this is a tough loss for the Saints, but now is the time to make a gameplan to put the Saints' linebacking corps in the best position to succeed.
One player, or multiple players, have the opportunity to earn more cash, more respect, and more love from the fans. Who will it be? That remains to be seen.
Next man up.