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Junior Galette, after two Achilles injuries: 'I'll be better than what I was'

ASHBURN, Va. -- The first two years have only provided what-ifs and tales of a short-week stretch two years ago. Washington Redskins linebacker Junior Galette looked terrific for two weeks during training camp, testing left tackle Trent Williams in ways few have.

Then Galette was gone, injured a week before training camp. He returned last offseason, fueling the what-ifs again, posting video of his recovery -- 360-degree dunks included. And, once more, he was gone again before anyone could see him play in a Redskins uniform, hurting his other Achilles while working out on his own shortly before camp opened.

Now he's back.

"I'll be better than what I was," Galette said.

Here's why he's confident: He's lost 15 pounds -- weighing in the upper 240s -- and feels more explosive, even with injuries to both Achilles.

"I feel a lot lighter and more explosive," he said. "People don't believe it, but I'm going to show you."

The Redskins, and their fans, would be thrilled if he did. Galette has worked with the first-team defense in their nickel package as a pass-rusher. With Preston Smith and rookie Ryan Anderson also at outside linebacker, in addition to Ryan Kerrigan on the other side, they don't need Galette to be a full-time player.

That said ...

"We're going to expect a lot of great things from Junior," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "He still has a good burst, he's shown his stamina is starting to improve, he's got great hands, he can bend, so it's good to see him rush."

That bend, and explosiveness, helped Galette record a combined 22 sacks in his last two years with New Orleans. The Saints released him less than a year after signing him to a big contract for a variety of reasons, including off-field issues.

In the summer of 2015, Galette became the rare player to beat Williams in one-on-one drills, getting low and displaying a burst from his four-point stance. A week ago in a practice open to the media, Galette showed some of those traits, albeit against backups who might not make the roster. He'll test himself more in training camp.

Galette said his Achilles is healed -- "stronger than ever," he said -- but that he feels about 80 percent of what he can do. There's a reason he's optimistic.

"It's the level of confidence I have in myself and overcoming a lot of obstacles I've had in life," said Galette, playing on a one-year deal. "It molded me into the person I am today. I do have what it takes and I don't want to be 35 years old looking back and saying, 'Why did I retire at 28, 29 years old? Why not give it one more shot?' I see guys 30, 31 getting paid 50, 60 million dollars. I'm not going to turn that down."

It's hard to miss two seasons and return at a comparable level. Galette wasn't a speed demon at outside linebacker pre-injury, once running the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds. Rather, it was his quickness off the line.

"That's something that God gave me and I feel that can never go away, even if I'm 285 pounds," he said. "That's all anticipation and a lot of pre-snap and being able to load that heel."

The first injury was devastating for the Redskins. On the day it happened, coaches, notably Gruden, walked around in a daze. The second one stunned Galette.

"The second was a lot tougher than the first because you're in so much shock that it can happen twice," he said.

What helped, he said, was that it was the other Achilles. He knew what to expect from the recovery process. During this time, he said he played more video games and spent more time with his son. And he reminded himself that it could be worse.

"You know through a devastating moment that I'm still alive and I'm blessed," he said. "Not everyone wakes up. You can't take life too seriously. Have pride in what you do, but have fun with it. I have a beautiful son, a loving family. I have a lot to live for."

He did give up basketball, per the coach's request. The Redskins stuck with Galette because good pass-rushers are hard to find. If he doesn't produce, the Redskins still have options. Kerrigan and Trent Murphy combined for 20 sacks last season.

"As an athlete who felt like he underachieved, you always feel you have more to prove," Galette said. "I don't care about no money; I've made a lot. Obviously I want to make more, but at this point I want to prove to myself that I can still play at an elite level."

But first comes a simple goal.

"I want to take the training process one day at a time," he said, "and make sure I'm healthy and make it through camp."