Malcolm Butler was selected for his first career Pro Bowl. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO — According to one Hall of Fame cornerback, the sky is the limit for Malcolm Butler.
Mike Haynes was selected to the Pro Bowl nine times and eventually found his way to Canton as one of the best cornerbacks of the 1970s and 80s.
And what he saw in second-year defensive back Malcolm Butler this year makes him think that great things are ahead for the No. 1 corner on the Patriots. What impressed Haynes the most is how, after his Super Bowl-saving interception in Glendale, Butler only improved his game this season, earning the first of what could be many Pro Bowl selections.
“The secondary seemed to play very good. Malcolm Butler, after that Super Bowl, that put his name on the map and he knew the world was watching,” Haynes told WEEI.com. “He had a fantastic year. As far as I’m concerned, he had a really great year. He should be really proud about what he accomplished. It’s just too bad what happened in Denver. I was surprised by that.”
The defense was the strength of the team down the stretch, something that was very apparent to Haynes. But Haynes felt the bitter disappointment all Patriots fans did when the Broncos held on for a 20-18 win in the AFC championship.
“I thought that they had a fantastic year,” Haynes said. “I actually figured that they were going to go to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl. I was really optimistic about that happening. In a hostile environment and all that. I don’t know if the altitude played a factor but it can.
“It sometimes played a factor, especially with the style of play, with a lot of passing, a lot of getting back to huddle and hurry-up offense. Yeah, I think it does play a role. I was a little miffed about the way the offensive line wasn’t able to protect Brady. To me, that was the difference in the game.”
Not surprisingly, Haynes credits Bill Belichick for the development of Butler. But what did raise an eyebrow was Haynes’ admission that, even as great as he was, he, like Darrelle Revis, might have trouble assimilating into the Belichick system as a veteran.
“I would not want to play for him if say I was a ten-year vet, as a corner because I would like to come in with his type of knowledge and his kind of influence on my thinking rather than already have my thinking and try to change it after ten years,” Haynes said. “And that’s what Malcolm Butler has, that’s what all the DBs there have right now. They’re a young secondary. They’re learning the right way. They’re just going to get better.
“One of the things I have always appreciated was how smart the defensive players were, and really both sides of the ball. If they were to sign a player in the middle of the week and he came in on a Thursday, I believe everybody in that huddle could tell that guy what his job is, what he’s supposed to do. I think that’s rare in the NFL. But that’s one of the things that makes those guys special and they can move around and do different things and know it. They can help each other out. It would’ve been fun to play to him.
“I think it’s just harder to make a transition if you’re not used to that. But if you learn a certain way, then that’s the way you’re going to learn and that’s the way it’s natural for you. I just think he’s a brilliant guy. The information they share with the players gets them ready for a game. There’s not a lot times I would expect they would be surprised with what the other team is doing. They always seem prepared.”
Haynes, now 62, is a prostate cancer survivor and is using Super Bowl 50 week to promote his effort to raise awareness of the disease among men, get checked for it and to get informed through the site knowyourstats.org.