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NFC South camp preview: Saints created hole by releasing Galette

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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — The New Orleans Saints weren’t done remodeling a defense that ranked among the worst in the NFL in 2014 when they released inside linebacker Curtis Lofton, their leading tackler for the past three seasons, in March.

Just days before the start of training camp, they sent outside linebacker Junior Galette packing after he led the team in sacks last season.

Despite Galette’s pass-rushing ability, for which he received a four-year, $41.5 million contract extension last September, Saints officials grew weary of the antics of the six-year veteran. He was informed July 24 that he would be released. Three days later, it became official.

Apparently, the Saints feel they did enough in free agency and the draft to let the troubled Galette go with a substantial cap hit on the books for this season and 2016 — about $5.45 million this year and $12.1 million next year.

Galette was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence at his home in early January, although the charge was later dropped. In June, a video surfaced showing a man — reportedly Galette — striking a woman with a belt during an altercation in Miami Beach in 2013 and throwing punches at others during the melee.

Galette’s attorney said it is difficult to tell if Galette, who met with league officials about the incidents in late June, is the man in the video.

Nevertheless, the Saints were ready to move on after Galette became a distraction — which reportedly included a locker room fight with former Saints defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick — after getting his huge contract.

Saints coach Sean Payton talked after the season about a lack of chemistry in the locker room playing a big part in his team’s 7-9 record, which prompted a house-cleaning of several prominent players on both sides of the ball.

The main candidates to take Galette’s place in the lineup are former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer, who is trying to get his career back on track after two injury-plagued seasons, and second-round draft pick Hau’oli Kikaha, who led the NCAA with 19 sacks last season.

The Saints also picked up outside linebacker Davis Tull in the fifth round of this year’s draft. Tull will have a chance to help fill the void left by Galette once he fully rehabs a torn shoulder labrum that required surgery in March.

CAMP CALENDAR

July 29: Entire team reports

July 30: First practice

Aug. 19-20: Joint practices with New England Patriots in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Aug. 28: Camp ends

–Team strength: Running back.

The Saints want to run the ball more effectively this season following Mark Ingram’s breakout year in 2014. Ingram rushed for a career-high 964 yards and nine touchdowns with four 100-yard games despite missing three games with a fractured hand. The Saints released Pierre Thomas, but they replaced him with C.J. Spiller, who will provide more speed running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. They also confident are in the speedy Khiry Robinson, an undrafted back who averaged 4.5 yards per carry the past two years with the team.

–Breakout player: Wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

After getting off to a solid start in his rookie season with 53 receptions for 550 yards and three touchdowns, Cooks missed the final six games with a fractured thumb. Saints coaches believe the lightning-quick Cooks, the team’s first-round pick in the 2014 draft, was just beginning to scratch the surface when he was forced to the sideline. In addition to his pass catching, Cooks was used several times on reverses and proved to be a versatile player, which has the coaches eager to see what he can do over a full season.

–Work in progress: Cornerback.

While the Saints did a lot of remodeling here since the end of the 2014 season, they still have a lot of work to do once training camp starts.

Last season they ranked 31st in total defense and were 25th against the pass in allowing 251.2 yards per game with 26 touchdown passes. Those numbers must go down, and the unit must come up with more interceptions after having only 12 last season.

Brandon Browner, who was brought in as an unrestricted free agent, and Keenan Lewis should be the starters. The question mark going into training camp are the backups and the nickel spot after the Saints allowed Patrick Robinson to leave in free agency and waived Corey White — the two players who were in the nickel most of last season.

The top candidates to take over at nickel are rookies: third-round draft pick P.J. Williams, whom many believed would have been a first-rounder if not for some off-field issues, and Damian Swann, a fifth-round pick. Veteran Kyle Wilson, another newcomer, could be in the mix, although he struggled a bit in offseason workouts.


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