It might also be his last.
And he knows it.
“Guys only get so many opportunities in this league and I’m fortunate enough to have this one,” he said. “I want to make the best of it. You never know when your time’s up. Anything can happen so it’s a huge opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to it.”
A second-round pick of New England in 2009, Butler bounced from the Patriots to the Panthers before signing with the Colts in late September. When injuries to starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Jerraud Powers opened the door, he ran through.
In his first start with the Colts, Butler had two interceptions – returning one for a touchdown – and recovered a fumble in the Colts’ 27-10 victory in Jacksonville last Thursday. And suddenly, a guy nobody wanted when the season began was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Funny how quickly things can change for a guy.
Powers will miss the rest of the season after being placed on injured reserve earlier this week with a toe injury. Davis will miss at least one more game recovering from a knee sprain. And so when the Colts face the Patriots in their biggest game of the season Sunday in Foxboro, Butler will be starting once again.
“He gets to be a starter. That’s the main thing,” said interim head coach Bruce Arians. “You get an opportunity, Wally Pipp, you forget about whoever’s hurt. That’s the whole beauty of the mantra ‘next man up.’ Don’t give it up, once you get it. Ryan (Grigson) gave him an opportunity to reclaim a career and he’s making the best of it.”
After posting 10 interceptions and 180 tackles in his career at Connecticut, Butler was drafted No. 41 overall – 14 spots behind college teammate Donald Brown – in 2009.
Scouts loved his combination of speed (4.41 in the 40) and athleticism (43-inch vertical jump, not to mention his college productivity.
In his first NFL start, he picked off Kerry Collins. In the next game, he had another interception against the Bucs. His third pick, on Jan. 3, came against Houston’s Matt Schaub and Butler took it 91 yards for a touchdown.
The product of a football family – he is a cousin of Broncos running back Willis McGahee as well as Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins and nephew of former Saints safety Gene Atkins – Butler found himself struggling for confidence his second season.
He opened as the starter but after giving up a touchdown and committing two pass interference penalties in a game, he was not only benched but taken out of the defensive scheme entirely. He returned to play some nickel late in the year but his days in New England were numbered.
Shortly after the Patriots waived him in September 2011, he signed with Carolina and started six games. But he also missed time to travel to Florida to be with his then-3-month-old daughter, who needed life-saving heart surgery.
One of the Panthers’ final cuts, Butler jumped when the Colts called.
“He’s talented,” said defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. “It was great picking him up during the season like we did and he’s just making steady progress. It’s a process but all the guys we picked up during the regular season are doing a good job.
“I think sometimes when guys bounce around after a couple of seasons they’ve got to take note, say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to square up and start studying,’ and understanding exactly what they need to do and that’s what he’s done.”
Butler knows full well the challenge the Patriots present. He practiced against Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Co., for two years. But just as he knows them, they know him.
“He’s incredibly athletic. I don’t know if y’all have seen him jump but he’s a very, very athletic player,” Welker said. “He’s obviously had a couple interceptions this year and been playing some really good ball and has really come along. He’s definitely very, very talented.”
Talent has never been the issue with Butler. Consistency, which tends to be a byproduct of commitment, has been lacking.
He has made a strong first impression with the Colts. Now his challenge is to make it last.