FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler stood on the outskirts of the Gillette Stadium practice fields and tried to sum up his day covering Saints receiver Brandin Cooks. The first of two joint training camp practices with New Orleans hadn't been easy for the Patriots corner, but he smiled when he heard a question about that day's nemesis.
"Woo! Yeah, man. I got some work put it on me today," he said. "But that's the goal. Come out here and compete each and every day. Go against the best. No matter who it is, I'm gonna go all out. Got another day to get better."
Cooks is an undersized No. 1 receiver at 5-foot-10, but between his speed, quickness and strength, Butler knew he would have his hands full Tuesday. He was rudely introduced to Cooks' skill set when the two squared off last season during joint practices at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.
On Tuesday, Butler broke up one pass from quarterback Drew Brees to Cooks in the back corner of the end zone, but he allowed a touchdown to Cooks on a corner route, and during one-on-one drills Cooks won their matchup all three times they lined up.
That Butler looked forward to trying to lock down Cooks in joint practice No. 2 on Wednesday spoke to a competitive nature that has come to be expected from Butler's teammates in the secondary.
"That's him. That's him," safety Devin McCourty said. "If he came out here and dominated and had three or four interceptions, he'd come back tomorrow and need to get three or four more. I think the way he prepares, the way he plays gets guys going in the secondary. We know what to expect out of him. We know the kind of level and the type of play he's coming with and that gets everyone going.
"From when he first got here and was practicing towards the end of practice and we're all yelling and screaming for him . . . now I think he has that same attitude with the ones. We love the way he comes to play every day, and I think it really inspires the rest of us."
That spirit helped Malcolm Butler go from unknown Super Bowl hero to Pro Bowler last season. And Bill Belichick hinted on Tuesday that there's still more to come from the product of Division 2 West Alabama.
"Malcolm works hard. He’s gotten better each year. He’s certainly way ahead of where he was last year at this time, which was way ahead of where he was his rookie year at this time," Belichick said. "He’s a hard working kid that has shown steady improvement. He really competes well on the field. He wants to get better.
"His roles have expanded in terms of playing on both sides, playing inside, and I’d say his overall coverage and understanding and technique and the variety of things he can do at a proficient level has continued to expand and grow. He’s done a good job for us and continues to get better."
Butler will continue to try to trend in the right direction on Wednesday as he takes on the toughest test the Saints have to offer.
"I’ll say he got the best of me today," Butler said of Cooks, "but got another day to improve."