FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler was about six months away from becoming a Super Bowl hero and a household name during training camp practices between New England and Washington last summer.
It was during one of those joint sessions that Butler -- in order to help carve himself a Patriots roster spot -- requested to cover the toughest assignment in the opposing huddle: receiver DeSean Jackson. The ever-competitive undrafted rookie corner from Division 2 West Alabama wanted to make a statement by shutting down the three-time Pro Bowl wideout.
"I asked coach to go against him," Butler said Tuesday inside the Patriots locker room. "That didn't turn out too well."
Butler was taught a thing or two, but he lives to tell the tale, and he uses that moment as just one of many learning experiences that have helped him through a year and a half of NFL life.
"I was just getting here my rookie year," Butler said, "and I saw DeSean Jackson. I've been a big fan of his, and I said, 'I want to try him.' I went out there and . . ."
"You gotta be careful where you put your hands out there on them," Butler said with a smile. "Gotta be careful when you put your hands on him. He can move real fast."
Jackson hasn't played since getting 13 snaps in a Week 1 loss to the Dolphins, when he suffered a hamstring injury. He has returned to practice this week and could play on Sunday when he visits Gillette Stadium and the Patriots.
Whether or not Butler matches up with Jackson remains to be seen, but that initial meeting between the two has stuck with New England's No. 1 corner as one of the first of many lessons he's absorbed -- and will continue to absorb -- as a pro.
"You can never learn enough in this league," Butler said. "Probably in life too."