Not quite seven months ago, New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler made arguably the biggest, most clutch play in Super Bowl history.
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Not Darrelle Revis or Brandon Browner or Kyle Arrington or any of the other Pats’ corners with more experience or a better pedigree than the undrafted free agent from West Alabama. It was Butler who saved the season for the Patriots, making the remarkable interception that preserved a four-point lead over the Seahawks and resulted in a fourth Lombardi trophy.
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When the Patriots decided to let Revis, Browner and Arrington walk during the offseason, Butler emerged as a trendy pick for the team’s new No. 1 corner and reports out of Foxboro during the first couple weeks of training camp suggested he was up to the challenge.
Which is why when the dispatches from the Patriots’ joint practice session with the New Orleans Saints in White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia began to trickle in on Wednesday morning, you’re forgiven if you became somewhat confused.
Seems Butler was torched over and over again by Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees during 11-on-11’s. He gave up up a 40-yard sideline throw and a touchdown on back-to-back plays. He drew a pass interference flag. Butler was getting picked on and the results were referred to by Mike Giardi of Comcast Sports Net New England as, “far and away his worst day of training camp.”
Yes, the newly anointed No. 1 guy had a bad day. And he’s likely to have more of them, both during the preseason and the regular year. Growing pains are hardly uncommon at this level, even for Super Bowl heroes.
The Patriots clearly have a ton of faith in Butler. He’s near, if not at, the top of the cornerback depth chart, seemingly ahead of veterans free agent acquisitions like Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain, as well as third-year Patriot Logan Ryan. In fact, as per Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal, the Patriots’ core secondary group in practice of late features Butler as the lone corner along with safeties Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, with veteran Tarell Brown joining up in nickel situations.
That’s a lot to place on the shoulders of a 25-year-old from a Division 2 school. But Butler, who proved he can handle intense pressure over the course of the second half of the Super Bowl even before he made that fateful pick, hasn’t changed much at all from his rookie campaign to his second season, according to coach Bill Belichick.
That’s why his lousy day in West Virginia is about as much of a big deal as his best days earlier this summer at training camp behind Gillette Stadium, which is to say, it isn’t at all. Malcolm Butler is not yet a star, nor is he someone about whom Patriots fans should be concerned.
He’s simply still learning and still growing. And that’s just fine.
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