FOXBORO, Mass. — There seems to be some confusion over Malcolm Butler’s nickname.
The New England Patriots cornerback is either called “Strap” or “Scrap” dependent upon who you ask, but they seem to mean the same thing.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything, depending on where you’re from,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “If you’re from the country, you’re probably Scrap. If you speak properly, you probably say Strap, so I say Strap.”
The nickname was given to the Super Bowl XLIX hero early last summer by linebacker Jamie Collins, because of Butler’s tight coverage on wide receivers.
“I think it’s strap,” receiver Julian Edelman said. “Strapping guys down.”
Butler, a Vicksburg, Miss., native, might be one of the Patriots players from the country who McCourty is referencing.
“They both sound the same to me, so (Strap) I guess,” Butler said. “S-T-R-A-P.”
So, before there’s anymore confusion, it’s Strap, even if it sometimes sounds likes Scrap.
Butler doesn’t only strap down on wide receivers, he also has the unique ability to get his hand on the ball before they have a chance to haul it in. Including playoffs last season, Butler had six pass deflections and allowed just 15 catches. That ratio ranked fourth among NFL cornerbacks last season. He was first in pass breakups per target and second in pass breakups per snap, according to Pro Football Focus’ charting.
This preseason, he had two pass breakups and allowed just one reception.
“You can’t do anything without the ball,” Butler told NESN.com. “That’s what everybody wants. Most of the time if a receiver gets his hands on it, he’s going to catch it. If he touches the ball first, nine times out of 10, he’s going to catch it. You might as well beat him to the point, but sometimes that gets you in trouble.”
Head coach Bill Belichick explained in extraordinary detail what traits a cornerback must possess to have great ball skills.
“I think it’s a combination of physical skills, speed, quickness, instincts, just awareness or instincts — however you want to call it — and then there are ball skills,” Belichick said. “They’re all important. Being able to run fast or move quickly in a short area is certainly paramount to getting to the ball. Sometimes instinctively you can kind of get a jump on the play just because of the combination of the route or the way the quarterback is looking or the way the receiver maybe is giving away the route, the way he runs it you’re able to anticipate it. But then there is the final part of it, which is of course the ball skills and playing the ball.
“There are a lot of times when defenders are close to the receiver, they’re close to the ball, and the receiver ends up with it, and they either misjudge it or aren’t able to get to the reception area with their hand in order to break it up. They reach for it and miss it or whatever. That’s a key component, too. Being close to the receiver is good, but being able to have the ball skills, the timing to reach and touch the ball at the right time in order to break it up is important.
“And obviously the final thing, the fifth thing would be hands in terms of intercepting the ball. It’s almost another skill. Breaking up passes is one thing; actually intercepting them is another. Some players might have good ball skills but they don’t have good hands. Some players might have good hands but not necessarily have great ball skills.
“Of course the great ones have speed, quickness, anticipation and awareness, ball skills and hands.”
The Patriots certainly think highly of “Strap”, and he has the potential to possess all five of those physical skills needed for a No. 1 cornerback.
Thumbnail photo via Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Aug 22, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New England Patriots strong safety Malcolm Butler (21) warms up prior to a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports