on August 29, 2013 - 12:28 AM
, updated August 29, 2013 at 12:45 AM
Crezdon Butler is 6 feet tall, ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.43 seconds coming out of college and was considered an early-round draft prospect after his junior season at Clemson University.
What’s not to like about him stepping into the shoes of Stephon Gilmore as a starting cornerback for the Buffalo Bills?
Well, Butler has played fewer than 20 defensive snaps in his first three NFL seasons, never has started a game, has been released four times and the Bills are his fourth NFL team.
Butler aims to prove he can make the team — and perhaps even start in Gilmore’s absence — when the Bills close the exhibition season tonight against the Detroit Lions.
The Bills’ cornerback competition will be one of the relevant aspects of the largely insignificant game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. None of the starters for the two teams is expected to play very long.
However, Gilmore’s broken wrist, which will keep him out of action six to eight weeks, creates some unwanted drama for the Bills 10 days before the season opener against New England.
Gilmore is the ace of the Bills’ cornerback unit, and the Bills do not have a proven player to fill his spot, opposite the other starting cornerback, Leodis McKelvin.
Third-year man Justin Rogers spent some time as the No. 3 outside corner during training camp. However, Butler took Gilmore’s spot when he was hurt in Washington, and Butler was the starter in Tuesday’s practice.
Second-year man Ron Brooks doesn’t factor into the outside equation. He’s the top slot corner in passing situations. Also battling to make what likely will be a six-man cornerback roster are rookie Nickell Robey, T.J. Heath and Kip Edwards.
Rogers missed a good chunk of training camp with a pulled hamstring, and Butler was hurt for the second exhibition game against Minnesota.
“We know that when we see them play in games, both of those players have played well recently,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said of Butler and Rogers. “I think both of those players right now we’re looking at, along with Heath still in the mix with that corner position to see how they do. So both players played well in the last two weeks, Rogers and Butler.”
Butler had a good junior year at Clemson, with four interceptions, six pass breakups and a forced fumble. His senior year, however, opposing passers avoided him and he had just one interception.
He lasted until the fifth round of the draft, going to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Butler’s 40 time is elite. Gilmore ran 4.40. Butler fell to the third day of the draft in part because of his drop in production his senior year, and he had a less physical style than the top corners.
After riding the bench as a rookie, Butler dislocated his ankle and missed most of 2011. In 2012, he was cut by Arizona, picked up by Washington and waived after he hurt his hamstring, then resigned by Arizona and cut again. Bills executive Buddy Nix liked him out of college. The Bills signed him last Nov. 7.
Butler played well in the exhibition game in Indianapolis and is excited about getting the best chance of his career to show his ability.
“This is a great opportunity for me to start over,” he said. “It’s like a restart of my career. The new coaches don’t know you yet, so your first impression has to be the best one. I’m trying to leave a good taste in their mouth with this last game coming up and do what I have to do to make the team.”
Butler thinks better conditioning and nutrition have helped him improve.
“The big key for me was staying healthy,” he said. “Keeping my body right, eating the right things and staying in the game, stay practicing. It’s a business, and I kept getting injured.”
“As long as I stay healthy, I should be fine,” he said.
Rogers, a seventh-round pick in 2011, played 49 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Most, however, were in the slot, not outside.
Robey, the undrafted rookie from Southern Cal, plays with aggressiveness. He’s only 5-8. His best role might be inside, as well, if he makes the team.
C.J. Spiller, Jairus Byrd, Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel all will sit out for Buffalo.
The Lions will keep stars Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, as well as top draft pick Ziggy Ansah, out.
All NFL teams must trim down to 53 men by 6 p.m. Saturday. Tonight’s game is the last chapter in the intense fight for the final one or two roster spots at receiver. Most teams keep five or six receivers. If veteran Brad Smith is No. 5 for Buffalo, then Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley and Brandon Kaufman are fighting for No. 6.
Easley, the oft-injured fourth-year veteran, has been healthy this summer and has 10 catches in preseason.
“I’m just trying to take full advantage of what’s in front of me right now, which is this last game,” Easley said. “As far as how I feel, I can answer that question a lot better within a week. Physically I’m good. I feel when I’m healthy I can make things happen and be productive. I’m just trying to showcase what I can do.”