Patriots

Tavon Wilson lands at Gillette Stadium

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Tavon Wilson lands at Gillette Stadium

FOXBORO -- When a player gets drafted to the NFL, teams like the Patriots have its PR people find and distribute bios and supplemental information to reporters within minutes. George "Jake" Bequette, New England's pick at No. 90, was hand-delivered in five stapled pages featuring an overview, career notes, season-by-season summaries (including high school), and personal information.

The book on defensive end Tavon Wilson? His player page, one front-and-back, printed from FightingIllini.com.

His presence at Gillette Stadium Saturday afternoon filled in a few blanks.

"It's been crazy, but it's been everything I could ever want," Wilson told the crowd of media. "What a great organization. I got out here this morning and met the coaches and am just getting to know people within the organization."

The 6-0, 205-pound back stood on the stadium turf in a gray sweatshirt stamped BOSTON across the front. Yes, it was an airport purchase. He flew in from D.C. -- topsiders betraying the urgency -- and needed to arm himself against the May chill.

But don't worry, Wilson can handle Foxborough.

"Champagne, Illinois where we play is pretty cold," he laughed.

The sparse biography at least testifies to that much. Wilson was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection by the coaches. A team captain his senior year, he started all 13 games for the Illini, and finished third on the team with 81 tackles. That year he played 12 games at cornerback where in 2010, Wilson started all 13 at safety.

He touts the move, among other things.

"Hard worker. Versatile player. Smart," Wilson said of himself. "Those are things I take pride in. I feel like I fly around the field. All those things I take pride in.

"We played a lot of good out-of-conference games at Illinois. The Big Ten had a lot of bigger receivers and out of conference had a lot of small, faster guys so I pretty much played all types of receivers."

Don't forget special teams. That's the work that will get a rookie like Wilson on the roster, and it sounds like he knows it.

"I love to play special teams as part of the game; I played special teams in college and loved to do it and I'm going to do it here, too. I played kickoff, I was a holdup guy on punt, I was a gunner on punt teams, so I pretty much played all of those.

"The more you can do the better you're going to be," he said, sounding the part of a Patriot already. "So I'm just going to come in, play special teams, be the best at whatever position they play me as."

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.