FOXBORO, Mass. — Think Malcolm Butler was good last year? Bill Belichick says the New England Patriots cornerback will be even better this season.
Butler is in a much different place, now in his second season in the NFL. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent who only signed a contract with the Patriots after impressing in a rookie minicamp tryout. Now he’s a surefire starter after being the team’s Super Bowl XLIX hero.
“I’m more relaxed and comfortable,” Butler said. “I have a job, but I’m still working like I gotta keep this job. That’s it.”
Belichick said earlier this summer that Butler still is working as hard as he did last season, but the head coach had high praise for the cornerback’s strides over the past year.
“No, much improved, much improved on everything,” Belichick said. “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 1 to Year 2, as most of our other players have, too, that are in that same category. 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. 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.”
Butler has allowed one reception for 10 yards on seven targets in three preseason games. He has two pass breakups and is playing like a No. 1 cornerback. His teammates have taken notice that he isn’t resting on his laurels, despite his newfound fame and role.
“The guy, he’s a hard worker, and I think that started, not just from when everyone noticed him in the Super Bowl, but since he came in here in OTAs and everything,” defensive captain Devin McCourty said. “He just put his head down, working, and the greatest thing is that hasn’t changed, you continue to see him do it.
“I think he makes leaps and bounds in everything. You guys just see his physical play, being out there, but even understanding the game and the defense, you see him improve in that every day. It’s a plus having a guy like him, with his work ethic and having some leaders and some older guys that can help him and show him different things. I think it’s been a great fit.”
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images