FOXBORO — The biggest change to the secondary this season is Malcolm Butler’s move to left corner, where he has enormous shoes to fill with Darrelle Revis a Jet once again. While there will be questions in New England’s secondary until it shows sustained stability, the Patriots seem confident in Butler’s move to a key role in his second professional season.
“Much improved, much improved on everything,” Bill Belichick said Monday of Butler’s progression from his rookie season to now. “He worked hard in the offseason. It’s obviously just his second year, the change of lifestyle, becoming a professional athlete, working at this job every day, becoming more mature, more dependable, having a better understanding of what we do, having a better understanding of what our opponents do or the passing game in the National Football League. He’s made a huge jump from year one to year two as most of our other players have.”
It’s odd to know the pinnacle of a player’s career so early into it, as Butler will always be best-known for intercepting Russell Wilson in the final minute of the Super Bowl in February. The next thing Butler can do is establish himself as a starting cornerback, something he was not as a rookie due to both his lack of experience and the Patriots’ depth at the position.
The Patriots are now leaning on him to replace Revis and prevent New England’s secondary from getting picked on by opposing quarterbacks. As he continues to learn the ropes, he’s leaning on former All-Pro cornerback and current very-much-non All Pro cornerback Devin McCourty.
A star at safety, McCourty isn’t the oldest member of the Patriots’ secondary, but he’s certainly the best. As he enters his sixth season in the NFL, McCourty is being looked to as a leader of a group that lost Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the offseason.
“That’s the quarterback of the defense I would say, him and Mayo,” Butler said Monday. “Devin back there gets us fired up for the game. He doesn’t only lead by example, but his words lead by action. Just a great player, great leader, doing great things.”
McCourty returned Butler’s praise.
“He’s a hard worker,” McCourty said of Butler. “I think that started last year, I guess everyone knows him from coming in in the Super Bowl, but since he came in here in OTAs and everything, he’s just been putting in a ton of hard work.”
The beginning of McCourty’s career was rather odd. He was an immediate star cornerback as a rookie following his first-round selection, but he regressed as a corner the next season. Since then, he’s becoming one of the top safeties in the league.
Butler, on the other hand, was undrafted and started just one game as a rookie. The expectations on him are very high, as his cornerback spot is where many feel the Patriots are set; the right corner spot is currently more up in the air, with Tarell Brown the favorite at the moment.
Given how well Butler has performed in the preseason, it’s reasonable to agree with that line of thinking. Belichick feels OK with Butler where he is because he feels that players drastically improve from their rookie seasons to their second seasons.
“I think that’s where players make the biggest leap is A, you have that understanding of what it’s going to be like. It’s not new; you at least know what training camp is going to be like, what a regular season is going to be like, what a game is going to be like, what the coaches expect, all those kinds of things,” Belichick said. “So you have a little bit better idea of being able to plan or anticipate for it, but then the knowledge that you have about yourself, about your opponents, about how things worked, and that’s a huge amount of information that those second-year players have that the rookies just don’t have no matter how smart they are or how hard they work or whatever they’ve been exposed to in the past, some more than others. But going through it and experiencing it is invaluable, really.”
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