FOXBORO, Mass. — Malcolm Butler’s competition level doesn’t just show up when he laces up his cleats and steps on an NFL field for gameday. It also manifests itself on the practice field — and even when the cornerback and his fellow New England Patriots teammates are horsing around at Gillette Stadium, throwing crumpled up tape into cylindrical trash barrels.
“Since the first rookie minicamp,” head coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday when asked when he first noticed Butler’s competitiveness. “He’s a very competitive player, whatever it is: practice, games, trash ball in the locker room, whatever it is. He’s a very competitive player.”
If Butler was just as competitive when he stepped onto New England’s practice field on a tryout basis in rookie minicamp, then it’s probably ingrained in his DNA. But can a player improve that aspect of his game? Belichick believes so, but by only so much.
“Yeah, like a lot of things I think you can improve some traits, but there are a lot of traits that are inherently strong or inherently weak,” Belichick said. “The needle only moves so far. I always think you can improve it if the player wants to improve it. If he doesn’t want to do it then you probably can’t do it, but if he wants to do it and tries to do it then you can definitely have a swing. How far, that’s dependent on a lot of things. Again, to take a slow player and make him fast, take a weak player and make him strong is, at this point, a pretty big swing. But can you improve? Yeah, sure.”
Butler’s compete level showed up Sunday when he ripped the ball out of Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ hands as the New York Jets tight end was falling into the end zone for a touchdown. Because Butler forced Seferian-Jenkins to fumble as he fell out of bounds and through the end zone, the play resulted in a touchback for the Patriots, not a touchdown for the Jets (because of one of the dumbest rules in sports).
Butler played through the whistle and forced a turnover where some players wouldn’t. And that’s a natural tendency for the undersized and undrafted cornerback.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images
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