Sunday, April 26, 2009

Butler sets high expectations for himself

Piece of advice for any future NFL draftees who stumble across this space: When reporters ask you if you model yourself after, you might want to go the Ron Brace route.

"I can’t really say that I model my game after anybody," the former Boston College defensive tackle said in a teleconference with local media last night. "My game right now is obviously going to be changed because I’m going to be playing in the system they play with the Patriots."

The other option is the Darius Butler route -- one that might end up saddling you with some big expectations.

"I model myself after Asante Samuel," he said. "He's obviously a great Patriot and I model myself after him. I’ve been compared to him by a lot of (defensive backs) coaches going around on my visits and workouts in the league, and hopefully I can have the same kind of success he had early in his career, the last couple years when he was a Patriot. Like I said, I know I have to work to get to that level, and I’m looking forward to putting in all of that work."

Butler, of course, might not mind the high expecations. He very well might have that kind of success.

He's a ball-hawking corner, a guy with some crazy hops who can go up and get the ball with the best of them -- and who can even play a little bit of wide receiver if need be. (If you don't think that appealed to Bill Belichick, you're kidding yourself.)

He was expected to be a first-round pick but when he slid into the second, "I was getting a little nervous," he said. "I had to loosen my tie a little bit. But when I saw those guys get those back-to-back picks -- the 40 and 41 -- I had a feeling that that might be the landing spot for me."

He's possibly the shut-down guy the Patriots have been looking for since, well, the departure of Samuel. If you take what he said at face value, anything less than that will be a disappointment.

Samuel was a fourth-round pick in 2003 and made an impact right away; he played in all 16 games as a rookie, making 34 tackles and intercepting two passes. (The first NFL pass he ever intercepted came against the Jets in Week 3; he returned it for a touchdown.) Over the next couple of years, he developed into one of the top cover corners in the NFL and eventually priced himself out of the Patriots' range.

Butler has the skills to match -- or exceed -- that production. In his last two seasons at Connecticut, no opposing receiver caught a touchdown pass against him. In that regard, he might even be better than Samuel; the Pro Bowler tended to gamble and get burned every once in a while.

"He's a high-quality kid, smart, a very good understanding of the defense, a well-conditioned athlete," Belichick said.

Butler will learn how he stacks up against NFL competition before he even gets to the regular season -- in training camp against Tom Brady and Randy Moss.

"I was actually talking about that with my brother," he said. "He was like ‘You know, you’re going to be doing these minicamps and training camp, and you’re going to be lining up with Tom Brady and Randy Moss, coming from playing whoever you played in college.’ ...

"I’m a confident player and I’m confident in my abilities, and I know I can get better. That’s my goal. I’m going against the best every day, so I’ve got to hold my own."

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