FOXBORO, Mass. — All of the normal defensive starters were out on the field to begin Weeks 2 and 3 of the New England Patriots preseason matchups: Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Devin McCourty, Malcolm Butler, Darrelle Revis. Hold up — Malcolm Butler?
The undrafted rookie cornerback out of tiny West Alabama University has started all three of the Patriots’ preseason games, and he earned that opportunity this summer throughout training camp and his preseason performances. Butler didn’t know he was starting any of the three games — against the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers — until game time.
“They just throw me in there,” Butler said Tuesday in the Patriots locker room after the team cut down to 75 players.
Butler said he was shocked to start in Week 1 of the preseason against the Redskins, but he’s not about to complain about head coach Bill Belichick’s decision.
“Nah, I didn’t question it,” Butler said. “I just got out there and started playing.”
Butler frequently was targeted by the Redskins quarterbacks, but he allowed just two receptions and defended two passes. The 24-year-old rookie went on to force two fumbles against the Eagles and had another solid game against the Panthers.
Butler dominated his Division II opponents (and there’s a YouTube video to prove it), but going from West Alabama to the Patriots is a whole different animal. Butler said training camp with the Patriots helped to prepare him for the preseason.
“I knew once I got here, I had to go to another level if I wanted to stick around,” Butler said. “Yeah, it was a big jump. The plays and the quickness of the wide receivers. Everybody’s good. It was a big jump. It was a big jump.”
Butler certainly has the confidence of a starting cornerback, and he said that once he gets into a positional group, better players make him want to improve even more. Butler is surrounded by a very talented secondary in New England, working with All-Pros Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty, so he has plenty of room to grow.
Revis has been impressed with the undrafted rookie so far.
“He’s stepped up to the plate. Every challenge the coaches been asking him to do, he’s stepped up, and now he’s taking reps with the first team. That’s pretty good,” Revis said laughing Tuesday in the Patriots locker room. “That’s pretty good. We just gotta continue to keep on pushing him as a team, and as players and as coaches to continue to bring that potential out even more, so he can get better and better each week.”
It would be surprising to see Butler receive starting reps during the regular season — but not shocking. The Patriots obviously like Butler, or else they wouldn’t be testing him against opposing teams’ starters.
Going into the summer, it seemed like Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan were battling for the No. 2 cornerback spot until Brandon Browner returns from a four-game suspension. Butler — shockingly — now has thrown his name into the hat.