by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
Last year at this time, Darius Butler was a highly-ranked cornerback unsatisfied with his combine performance. After improving his 40-time at UConn’s pro day, most draftniks figured he’d maintained his first-round status.
Though getting drafted in the second round (41st overall) may have been disappointing for Butler, New England fans could not have been happier. The rookie’s playing time increased throughout his rookie year, leading to three interceptions – including a 91-yard TD pick-six in the final regular-season contest (see the highlight on his NFL player page).
One year later, Butler reminisced with PD about his pre-draft experience and rookie year, all while demonstrating the confidence of a player who understands the high expectations of him in 2010.
We’ve been interviewing a lot of NFL prospects, and I was wondering if you could talk about how you felt at this time last year compared to how you’re feeling now.
At this time last year, I was – I mean, obviously, everything was focused on the draft. I’d just finished the combine, so I was taking a little break for a couple days, and then went into pro day preparation. At the combine, I didn’t run the 40 time that I wanted to, so I was preparing to run the 40 and do my drills again, and I did those things at my pro day.
Were you nervous, or did you feel pretty confident about what you were going to be able to do?
I was pretty confident about it. One of the mistakes I made at the combine when it came to running the 40 was a little nerves involved, and you know, just going there and thinking too much and not just running. Besides that, I performed pretty well at the combine with all the physical things and workout aspects of it, so I wasn’t nervous at this point. I was pretty confident going into my pro day, just excited, and tired of waiting at this point.
In terms of draft day, what teams did you think had an eye on you? Or were there any teams in particular?
Well, I mean, going through the process, I met a lot of teams that had a lot of interest. A lot of teams had seen film, a lot of teams had been at the combine and pro day, so I thought a lot of different teams had interest. But in particular, there was a (draft) range where I had been projected, like in the 20s, and I think 22, the Vikings had a pick, then the Patriots had the 23rd pick, Falcons at 24 and Dolphins at 25. So, I thought I’d land somewhere between those four teams.
It must have been kind of disappointing to see your name not get called in the first round. What were people telling you, or how were you feeling about that?
Well, like I said, going into it, you know, you can’t really take what coaches and what scouts and what anybody really tells you going into it, because one pick can change the whole draft… A lot of people were telling me – a lot of people had projected going a certain place in the draft, and once I fell past that spot, you know, I was just anxious to get called, anxious to hear my name called. And when it happened, I was really excited.
What kind of vibe did you get from the Patriots when you met with them before the draft, and then how did it feel to meet with them again afterward?
Oh, I got good vibes from them. They were one of the teams that was real positive, and there were a couple of other teams and I met with them. They pretty much – they worked me out at my pro day. Coach Belichick was there, and Nick (Caserio) worked me out, and Coach (Dean) Pees, so I met all those guys during that time. There were pretty good vibes from them: they liked me, and I liked them, obviously. You know, once I got that call from Coach Belichick and Mr. Kraft, like I said, I was overjoyed… that I was going to an organization like the Patriots.
When you arrived at camp, was it overwhelming at first?
Not really. By the time camp came around I was so anxious to get back on the field and start playing football again. Since January, you know, you’re just training and running, taking these tests, everything else except football. By the time July came, I was ready to get out there and compete, and, you know, it was obviously a big jump. You go out there competing at a college level, to where they come out with Randy Moss, Tom Brady, Wes Welker, guys like that. So it was crazy, but I was definitely excited the Patriots got me.
What did you think of the Patriots defense? We like to think of the defense as being really complicated, but what did you think when you first came to New England?
Ah, well, actually, it was good for me. It wasn’t a huge transition, because my coaches at UConn took a lot of things from the Patriots and tried to run a lot of things that they did. It’s funny, a lot of the schemes were pretty much the same, it was just different terminology. So it was just learning the terminology and trying to forget the old one. You know, instead of calling something (what) you did in college, it was the same thing, you just call it something else. So it wasn’t too hard to transition from UConn to the Patriots.
And how do you feel about your progress this past year? Do you feel positive about it?
Oh, yeah, it’s all positive. I got some good experience. I mean, you can practice and have meetings all day, but until you actually get in there and get game reps, you know, those are the best things and the best way to learn. I got a lot on the field – passing snaps – for my first season, so I’m going to try to go forward to build on that.
Where do you think you saw the most improvement? Would it be at the beginning of the season, at the middle, or is it sort of a consistent, inch-by-inch thing?
I don’t know. I can’t say one point or another, because there were times I played well and times that I struggled during different parts of the season, so it went back and forth.
When you struggled, did you feel like it was a lack of preparation, or was it just (from) being in such a new situation?
It wasn’t a lack of preparation, because I did a good job myself and the coaching staff around me did a good job preparing me. It was just a matter of playing against other great athletes, other great players. So, sometimes you line up there and get beat. Sometimes it’s not going to be your day. That happened a couple times, and I’m young so I learned from it. Like I said, you just want to go forward – learn from it, first and foremost – and build on it.
Who do you think is the best receiver you went against last year?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I went against a lot of top-flight receivers last year: Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith, Andre Johnson. So, I don’t know, I couldn’t say which one’s better out of all of them. But yeah, they’re all pretty good.
It probably doesn’t hurt to practice against Randy Moss every day.
Oh, no, not at all. It’s a great thing for me as a young guy, getting to practice and learn so much from a veteran like that.
What are you looking forward to this year? Do you think you’ll be a bigger part of the defense? Do you feel like you understand it more?
Oh, yeah, definitely. Getting the off-season under my belt can only help, going in there and learning everything I’ve got to learn off the field… Learning how to be a pro off the field, and working out and getting my body in shape through the end of that long season. I just want to build on my last season and do some great things this year.
How much time have you spent in Foxboro this off-season?
Not much at all. I don’t spend too much time in Foxboro away from work. I live down in south Florida, so I’ve been here, spending some time with my family. They’ve got a great training facility and a trainer down here that I work out with, so I’ve been spending most of my time down here in south Florida.
Now, I was surprised to learn that you didn’t start playing football until your junior year in high school. What other sports were you involved in before then?
Basketball. Basketball was always my sport growing up, up until my junior year, and I still played, actually. I still played in college – not on the team, but intramurals, stuff like that. So it was pretty much basketball and I ran a little track in high school, but that was pretty much it.
What made you decide to play football?
Well, my coach… I went to a new high school. The football team was new, and the coaches decided to talk me into coming out and playing for the team. So I came out and did it. They told me it was pretty much my best chance of going to college, and that’s what I did. I got a free education out of it, and went and did some good things at UConn.
So, I noticed that you played option quarterback in high school. Are we going to see you running the Wildcat in New England?
I don’t know. (Laughs.) That’s up to Coach Belichick. That’s up to Coach Belichick. I’m going to do whatever helps the team, and if that’s something, I’d be more than glad to do it. But for right now, as far as I know, I’m focused 100 percent on playing cornerback.
You returned a couple of kicks last year.
Has there been any talk about you continuing that?
Oh, I haven’t – like I said, I haven’t been in Foxboro too much. I go back (this) week. So up until now, like I said, I’m focused on cornerback, and any other job they give me, I’m more than happy to do it.
Well, Darius, good luck. I’m certainly going to be rooting for you, and hope to see you out on the field soon.
All right. Thank you.
Email Chris Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org