Colts’ Darius Butler says he’s a safety until told otherwise
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Darius Butler has been a walking, talking, performing example of what every NFL team seeks.
He’s been Mr. Positional Flexibility since the Indianapolis Colts signed him off the street a month into the 2012 season. He’s been a cornerback, a nickel corner and, most recently, a safety.
He’s been an invaluable plug-and-play guy.
But when Butler re-upped with the Colts in March with a one-year, $3 million contract, it seemed his nomadic days were over. His ninth NFL season would be as a safety after what amounted to a transitional 2016 during which he spent as much time at safety as at his usual nickel spot. Injuries at safety during training camp resulted in Butler bouncing from corner to safety.
“I definitely asked to play (safety) more,’’ Butler said, reflecting on last season. “Once the season ended it was almost like a natural transition for me.’’
He’s bulked up a bit. Normally in the 185-pound range, he wants his playing weight at safety – it demands a more physical approach – to be around 190.
Butler, 31, has looked the part. He’s worn a shirt with cut-off sleeves when talking with the media, flashing strong shoulders and arms.
“I am trying to put on a little more weight for my new position to be more durable,’’ he said. “It will obviously be more physically taxing. My first eight years in the league I have been more fast-twitch and trying to stay close to guys and tackling smaller guys.
“Now I will be matched up with bigger guys here and there and tackling running backs a little more, so just focusing on that.’’
Butler was returning to a defense that featured a pair of young safeties. Clayton Geathers was a fourth-round pick in 2015 who had appeared in 24 games, 11 as a starter. T.J. Green, a 2016 second-rounder, started four of 15 games as a rookie.
That did nothing to temper Butler’s optimism.
“I want to be on the field every snap,’’ he said. “That’s my goal going into it. I want to be out there. I want to be a difference-maker.’’
That was before the April draft, before general manager Chris Ballard used the 15th overall pick on Ohio State safety Malik Hooker.
Butler’s reaction to the Colts using a first-round pick on a safety for the first time since their relocation in 1984?
“I’ve been around a long time and I know teams are going to make the best pick that’s there,’’ he said. “And he was obviously, in my opinion, the most talented player on the board, especially defensively.
“We had issues last year and in years previous with (creating) turnovers, and that’s what he brings to the table. But as far as what it does with how I go about my business? It doesn’t change. I still come to work every day with the same attitude and same mindset.’’
The uncertainty surrounding Geathers might lead to a more defined role for Butler, particularly in the base defense. Geathers underwent surgery in March to repair a bulging disc in his neck and there is no timetable for his return.
However, even if Butler’s primarily role is at safety in the base, he probably remains the Colts’ best nickel corner option. He has 12 interceptions since ’12 and returned three for touchdowns.
After adding Hooker’s play-making skills to the secondary in April, Ballard was asked how that impacted Butler. He reiterated his commitment to adding “competition’’ at every position.
“We can’t create enough competition,’’ Ballard said. “And the good thing is at safety, you have Darius who can play safety and play some corner in nickel. You have Geathers who can drop down and play some dime linebacker. We think T.J. Green can do some of that.
“They’ll all find a role on Sunday.’’
The versatility of the personnel should be most evident when coordinator Ted Monachino uses his nickel package.
“What will happen is those best five guys will be out there in nickel,’’ he said. “And if Darius isn’t the nickel corner, then if he’s one of those best five he’ll be playing the deeper parts of the field.
“He’s pumped up about whatever role. He’s just thrilled to be back and can’t wait to get started carving out a new niche and a new role because from a leadership standpoint, that spotlight has become brighter with Darius.’’
Butler isn’t oblivious to the Where will he play? chatter, but he’s unwavering.
“I’m a safety until I’m told otherwise,’’ he said. “I’ve been a nickel and I’ve been told I’m a safety. I’ve been a corner and I’ve been told I’m a nickel.
“Like I said, I come to work. I do what I can do as far as preparing mentally and physically with my body and then wherever the chips may fall.’’