ASHBURN — Jay Gruden ambled out of the athletic training room Wednesday afternoon, despondence washed across his face.
He had been through this situation too many times in the past few weeks, and on Wednesday, it happened again. Junior Galette tore his left Achilles tendon late in the Washington Redskins’ afternoon practice, and, facing a six- to eight-month recovery, the outside linebacker will miss the season.
“It was just at the end of practice,” Gruden said minutes earlier, the recency of the injury affecting his mood during his daily press conference. “He was running around the corner and went down. He’s not the type of guy that would lay down if it was nothing, so I’m very concerned.”
The injury to Galette is the latest to afflict the Redskins, who have now lost four key contributors — tight ends Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen and inside linebacker Adam Hayward the others — to season-ending injuries before the regular season has begun.
It also saps them of a player who, despite his personal issues, had become a significant part of their defensive plan and provided them with a dynamic pass rusher opposite Ryan Kerrigan.
“Junior brought a lot of energy,” inside linebacker Will Compton said. “He was hustling his [arse] off all the time. Just some backbone. You know, we’ve lost a lot of guys who bring that attitude and backbone for our whole team. … Everybody was excited about him. He was hustling around everywhere, bringing good energy and all that stuff. It’s unfortunate.”
Galette had begun participating in team drills on Aug. 15, easing into practice after he tore his left pectoral muscle in a weightlifting accident this past spring. He was expected to make his first appearance on Saturday in a road game against the Baltimore Ravens, which would have likely allowed the Redskins to take a look at their entire starting defense for the first time this preseason.
Instead, they’ll turn back to Trent Murphy, who was projected to start opposite Kerrigan before Galette signed with the Redskins on July 31, the second day of training camp. Preston Smith, a second-round draft pick, and Jackson Jeffcoat have also been vying for time at the position; three undrafted rookies — Houston Bates, Dyshawn Davis and Sage Harold — are also on the training camp roster.
“Whenever it’s my time to go, it’s my time up, and so I always stay ready,” said Jeffcoat, who played in three games for the Redskins in the wake of injuries to Brian Orakpo, now with the Tennessee Titans, and to Murphy, then a rookie. “My dad always said to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready, so that’s the biggest thing for me — staying ready for whenever my opportunity comes up and taking advantage of it.”
Galette signed a low-risk, one-year, $745,000 contract with the Redskins exactly a week after he was released by the New Orleans Saints, who needed him to pass a physical following his pectoral injury in order to cut him.
Although the Saints signed the 6-foot-2, 258-pound Galette to a four-year, $41.5 million deal that included $23 million guaranteed, they walked away from him after he became the subject of domestic violence allegations in January.
Charges were dismissed in February and a lawsuit brought by his accuser was dropped earlier this month; also, in June, a two-year-old video was uncovered of a person who appeared to be Galette striking people, including a woman, with a belt during a fight on a beach.
Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan said after he met with Galette at the team’s training camp hotel in Richmond that he was convinced those transgressions were behind him. The decision was also likely made partly with respect to the outside linebacker’s production; he had a combined 22 sacks over the last two seasons and could have been a potential game-changer for the Redskins’ defense.
Explosive, flexible and quick, Galette brought a dimension to the Redskins’ pass rush that the team didn’t previously have — one that first-year defensive coordinator Joe Barry said earlier in training camp was “really exciting.” The one-gap scheme Barry has implemented will focus on stopping the run, but the addition of nose tackle Terrance Knighton and defensive ends Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean Francois — and then Galette on the outside — would have been formidable.
“With a guy like Junior, with Ryan and what he does, and with Trent emerging to be one of those types of guys in the league, it was special because it gave you options,” defensive end Kedric Golston said. “You were able to rotate guys, and you know, the more pass rushers you have, the more defensive linemen you have, the better it is, because the more relentless you can play.”
Gruden acknowledged on Tuesday, the day before the injury, that the team was probably too cautious with Galette, who could have likely played against the Detroit Lions last week.
Galette didn’t mind, understanding the caution. He had mentioned frequently over the past month that he was pleased to have another opportunity, and on Tuesday, he was especially thrilled that he would finally be able to join his teammates in a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday.
“To get actually back on the field is exciting, and especially to be a part of a cohesive defense and a team that will embrace me, so I just want to prove to them that I belong,” Galette had said. “I’ve just been kind of earning my stripes, and it’s a real humbling experience.”