Anyway, my memory of the guy pictured above, Darius Butler, as he got more playing time down the stretch was of a guy who always seemed thisclose to making the play. He did have three picks and eight passes defensed, but he also had his tough weeks (his homecoming game in Miami comes to mind), like most rookies do.
But he didn’t get torched a whole lot, and even when he got beat, he mostly appeared to be just a step or two off. That’s why I thought it was at least a little significant seeing him anticipate a Tom Brady throw during 7-on-7s in practice today, undercut Julian Edelman (sitting down in the zone) and pick the ball off. More than just being the highlight of practice, seemed to me like it might represent Butler starting to get that “step” he was missing last year. Or maybe I’m over-thinking it completely.
“I don’t know,” Butler said, when I presented the idea to him in practice. “I’m just out here working. It was a play in practice. I’m getting better. Obviously I have a lot more time to prepare than I did last year, and things are coming together better, so that’s a good sign.”
You always hear Bill Belichick say that the jump from Year 1 to Year 2 is the biggest a player will take. Butler’s one of those guys that the Patriots are counting on to make the leap.
Yet, he’s not really guaranteed much. The Patriots made a long-term commitment this offseason to Leigh Bodden, and spent a first-round pick on Devin McCourty. So even though Butler improved last year, and cracked the lineup, his margin for error remains small. But he does think — given that he’s through the hectic grind of rookie year (from training for the combine straight through the season — he’s way more prepared to perform this year.
“Definitely, you have an offseason to reflect and take some time off and then start training again,” said Butler, who’s emphasized improving his technique and streamlining his game to better use his athletic ability this offseason. “You know what you’re training for, you know what you’re getting into, you can train yourself a lot better.”