- Associated Press - Friday, August 4, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Junior Galette has bigger shoes to fill than when he last played an NFL game in 2014.

Galette tore his left Achilles tendon before the 2015 season and his right Achilles tendon just before training camp a year ago. His Achilles tendons are now so thick and strong that he went up a shoe size from a 12½ to a 13½, and the Washington Redskins linebacker is finally healthy and motivated to show he hasn’t lost a step.

“I’m going to be better than what I was,” Galette said. “I’ll be able to explode a lot more than I used to before. … People who don’t believe it, I’m going to show you.”

Not long ago Galette was one of the most feared pass rushers in football, leading the New Orleans Saints with 10 sacks in 2014, ranking sixth in the league with 12 in 2013 and signing a $41.5 million, four-year contract. Released amid off-field trouble, Galette signed with the Redskins but hasn’t suited up for them in a game that counted because of the Achilles tendon tears.

Seeing Galette miss two years with consecutive injuries shocked teammates who now at camp are getting a taste of the player they thought they’d have the past two seasons.

“You’ve seen the Junior that they signed and that you want to get on the field,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “A lot of speed, explosive, elusive - all the same qualities that made him one of the best pass rushers in the league.”

The Redskins need him. Steady performers Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy combined for 20 sacks last season, but Murphy is suspended for the first four games this year and defensive lineman Chris Baker and his 3½ sacks are gone.

Coaches won’t put a limit on Galette’s role, saying he could be an every-down player if he remains healthy. Head coach Jay Gruden said the staff is “going to expect a lot of great things from Junior.”

Just getting back on the field was an ordeal. With the pressure pass rushers put on their Achilles tendons with their initial burst off the snap, one injury could be devastating.

Galette learned from doctors that there’s only a 2-3 percent chance of tearing the same Achilles tendon once it’s fully healed. Just as importantly, he had to overcome the mental hurdle of going through the long rehab process a second time.

“The first time I still felt like I was invincible,” Galette said. “For it to happen two years in a row, that was when I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve got to be doing something wrong.’”

Galette was doing something wrong. Safety DeAngelo Hall, who tore and re-tore his left Achilles tendon in 2014, said Galette “was doing so much it was almost counterproductive,” so the workout warrior reduced his training regimen.

Less training, more patience and fewer pounds got Galette to this training camp healthy and able to play even quicker. After previously playing at 263 points, Galette is now around 250.

“I look at other outside linebackers in the league - Von Miller, Melvin Ingram - they’re around the mid-240s, and especially for this next run in my career I think that’s probably a good weight,” Galette said.

The difference shows, and Gruden sees the same quick twitch that made Galette a dominant pass rusher. The 29-year-old feels himself getting more comfortable every day, and now the biggest question is if he can stay healthy.

Through a week of workouts, Galette hasn’t required any extra time off or restrictions. That remains possible.

“If something happens where he’s a little sore then, yes, we will taper back on him,” Gruden said. “But I think he needs the work, and he knows he needs the work. He’s been out for two years so there is a fine line there but if does have soreness, the trainers will let me know and we’ll hold him out.”

Just as there’s no hesitation in Galette’s burst on the field now, Gruden said there was no concern about bringing him back after the injuries. Galette looks at similar players in their early 30s getting paid $50 million to $60 million and thought, “I’m not going to turn that down.”

“The wait will be well worth it,” Galette said. “I’ve got a lot to prove to myself, and this organization as well for giving me another shot.”


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