FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler and Julian Edelman have had their battles over the years, but they typically came on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. They'd often be the first in line for one-on-one drills, and they'd see each other in seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 periods.
When they aligned across from one another in training camp workouts, those were some of the most entertaining moments of camp. They didn't hold back, and if they locked horns at the line of scrimmage, you could hear it. Either their pads colliding or their mouths motoring.
"I love playing against him," Edelman said in the build-up to Super Bowl LI in 2017. "Just because of the sheer fact of how competitive and how serious he takes practice. I believe he's one of the premier corners in the league."
The pair may meet up again on Sunday when the Patriots head to Nashville. Yet if and when they meet, they'll be players trending in opposite directions.
Edelman had to miss the first four games of the regular season, but he's hit the ground running. He has 15 catches for 175 yards over his last two games, and he's taken four handoffs for 41 yards.
Butler, meanwhile, could be playing for his job in some respects this weekend. He's statistically one of the worst corners in football this season. The Titans have played eight games in nine weeks after a Week 8 bye, yet he's still last in the league in catches allowed in coverage (39), touchdowns (seven) and yards (618). He hasn't started a game since Week 5.
Still, Edelman is expecting to see his former teammate at his best Sunday.
"Malcolm’s Malcolm," Edelman said Wednesday. "He’s a strong player who plays the ball well in the air. He’s gotten beat a couple times, but that’s the nature of his game. He’s a real aggressive player that competes, plays the ball well through your hands. He’s long, upper body.
"He’s got that ability to make up speed with the ball in the air while looking back. A lot of corners can’t do that. I got a lot of respect for Malcolm. He’s a hard player that competes, and his road to where he’s got shows how hard he works. He’s a stud.”
Butler's road led him to a five-year deal worth $61 million with Tennessee in the offseason. Though last season was his worst as a starter, the Titans clearly liked what they saw. His 2016 season, his second as a starter, was particularly impressive. Yet his on-the-field confidence stretched back much further.
Everyone knows the stories. As an undrafted free agent, he made plays on Tom Brady in practice day after day and frustrated the future Hall of Famer before anyone knew who Butler was -- before he had made the active roster.
The next year, he built upon his big Super Bowl moment.
"Tom came back [the next season] and he was talking trash," Devin McCourty said in 2017, "telling him does he know what it means to be a Super Bowl MVP and never make any plays again? Malcolm went out there that practice, had four pass breakups, an interception and he let Tom know about it every single play."
Hard to imagine Butler will be saying much if Sunday goes the way Monday night went for him. He allowed eight catches for 108 yards and two scores, according to Pro Football Focus.
The better former Patriots corner on the roster might instead be Logan Ryan. Primarily a slot corner, Ryan has missed just two snaps in the last three games, and he could be called upon to run with Edelman.
"Logan’s a real instinctive football player that is fundamentally sound," Edelman said. "If you mess up with Logan, he’s going to run the route for you. That’s the kind of player he is. He’s a very cerebral-type guy that studies everyone, works hard, and the same can be said with Malc. These guys, they’re good football players, really good football players. They showed it here, and they’re showing it now. You can’t mess up with them.”
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