Butler: Super Bowl pick a happy memory, but it won't help on Sunday

Butler: Super Bowl pick a happy memory, but it won't help on Sunday

FOXBORO -- Even after Malcolm Butler made his Super Bowl-saving pick, there were very few who could foresee his career playing out the way it has over the course of the last season-and-a-half. 

Patriots coaches were confident they had a player on their hands. Butler himself carried with him a belief that he belonged. But since intercepting Russell Wilson in the final moments of Super Bowl XLIX, the undrafted rookie reserve has exceeded the expectations of many and turned himself into a Pro Bowler. He has established himself as one of the best corners in the league. 

Butler is fifth in the NFL in catch percentage, allowing just 48.3 percent of targets sent his way to be caught, according to Pro Football Focus. He's also tied for the league lead with 10 passes defensed. He hasn't been perfect, and who can be when going up talented receivers like Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, Arizona's John Brown, Miami's Jarvis Landry and Houston's Will Fuller? But he has been consistently very good.

"He's a really good player," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in a conference call on Wednesday. "Good ballplayer. He seems really instinctive and aggressive and confident. He's done a nice job."

Brief as the praise may be from Carroll -- can you blame him for trying to excise all Butler thoughts from his mind? -- it's something that the Seahawks coach probably would not have been able to say before the last meeting between Seattle and New England. There just wasn't enough tape on the kid. 

Much has changed both on the field and off for the Division 2 West Alabama product as he's become the face of the Patriots defense in some ways, particularly after two young Pro Bowlers from last season, Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, have been traded away. His jersey has been featured prominently in the team's pro shop, and he has been in the spotlight for several charitable events at different points in the year.

The player who was rarely bothered by reporters at his locker as a rookie is now sought out to speak to young students about the importance of pursuing dreams and working to achieve them regardless any obstacles that may be in the way.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick commented recently about the many ways in which he has seen Butler grow and mature since his arrival to the Patriots before the 2014 season.

"Certainly, the move from West Alabama or Mississippi where he grew up to this area, that’s a pretty big jump right there just in terms of making adjustments, living style, transition and all of that," Belichick said. "I think that’s part of it, just going from a college situation and that level of competition to a professional level -- the daily demands of the National Football League. Any player has to make that transition.

"Malcolm has definitely made that, and then having a life outside of football off the field, managing time, managing your personal living situations and so forth, that’s something all players go through. I think he’s followed that on kind of a natural progression, about what you would expect. It’s something that we all continually work with and I think Malcolm has certainly made that adjustment, and continues to make it, really." 

While Butler certainly has no lack of confidence on the field, going toe-to-toe with anyone who may challenge him after the whistle, he maintains a certain level of quiet in the locker room that belies his standing as the team's No. 1 corner.

"I think Malcolm is pretty humble overall," Belichick added. "I think that’s one of the things that [is endearing] to his teammates and all the people around him.

"He’s confident, he works hard, he loves to compete, but at the same time he is humble about his success and the notoriety that he’s received, not for one play, but also as he’s established himself as a solid NFL corner. He still, I think, does a good job of staying humble and keeping things in perspective the right way."

All of which explains how Butler views the play that changed his life. It makes him smile to think about it, sure. But it's not something he chooses to dwell on though much of the region will do just that this week as the Patriots get ready to take on the Seahawks this weekend.

"It always does [bring about a smile] whenever I think back on it, but that's not going to help us win this game," Butler said Wednesday. "It's bigger than me. It's about the team. That play will not help us Sunday night, so we've got to be ready to play."

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."