Foxboro -- With only two Pro Bowl players on the Pats, some might wonder how this team is the No. 2 seed in the AFC. One reason is the Pats have received contributions from little-known players like Adam Butler. The Pats have had success with undrafted players almost every year. On this year's team there are many undrafted players including C David Andrews, CB J.C. Jackson, P Ryan Allen, backup QB Brian Hoyer, FB James Develin, OL James Ferentz, T LaAdrian Waddle, DE Keionta Davis, TE Jacob Hollister, CB Jonathan Jones, special teamer Brandon King and Butler.
Butler who the Pats signed out of Vanderbilt in 2017 after he was undrafted has been an effective third down nose tackle this season. He often allows the edge rushers to make plays because two interior offensive linemen need to block him. Butler, who made the switch from offensive line to defensive line in college, is content with not showing up on the stat sheet if it means the teams wins.
"As long as we keep winning I am happy," Butler said.
Last year Butler, 24, was worried about just his assignment. This year he has become more comfortable with the scheme. Butler finished the year with 17 tackles, three sacks and two passes defensed. Bill Belichick has taken notice.
"I think he’s definitely improved, but most players do. Again, that Year One to Year Two is a time when all of us – players and coaches – we all went through it. The first year you’re kind of just trying to keep your head above water and swim as fast as you can to keep up but it’s hard. The second year when you have been through it once before, you have a better idea of what you’re doing. You have a better idea of what to expect in terms of the overall schedule and the season and so forth and you have a better idea what to expect from your opponents and the other factors that come along with playing competitive games. All of that is valuable information. It’s valuable experience and a lot of it comes from Year One to Year Two," Belichick said.
"Some of it comes during the course of Year One, but when you get a chance to start over in Year Two, you’re able to usually put those things in place, get off to a better start and just build from higher ground then the starting low point that we all started at our first time around. Yeah, he’s certainly done that. His communication skills are good. He does a good job of handling the communication on the defensive line with games and blitzes and things like that. Sometimes formation adjustments and those type of things. He’s in the middle of the formation so he can generally see those and is in a position and a proximity to relay or make those calls to his teammates. He’s a smart player that can adjust quickly. He’s done a good job for us on the punt return team as well, which wasn’t a big role for him last year so he’s been able to expand his versatility and his value to the team by those added responsibilities. Yeah, he’s improved in every area," Belichick said.
Added Butler "I feel like I have definitely improved in the run game and that showed up early in the season. The game has definitely slowed down and I am playing with a little more confidence. I understand situations a lot better. Because of my experience I am a lot more aware of what is going on."
Other teammates like Trey Flowers have noted that Butler is a hard-worker. Earlier this year, Butler helped occupy two offensive linemen from the Green Bay Packers, which allowed Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn to each have 0.5 sack. Butler's competitiveness has impressed his coaches since high school. During his first offseason in college, Butler lost a rib eating contest. He argued passionately with the judges and the Vanderbilt defensive coordinator liked the feistiness and convinced the head coach to make Butler switch from offensive to defensive line. Part of the reason for the switch was Vanderbilt lacked depth on the defensive line. Butler said the transition was not easy.
"It was tough at first. I had to prove myself all over again and climb my way to the top. The biggest difference is when you play defensive line you have to be more reactive and playing offensive line you have to be more proactive like making sure you are set to keep your leverage. With defensive line, you have to react to what the offensive line is doing," Butler said.
Asked whether he likes to be reactive, "It's very fun," Butler said.
Butler said he likes the variation in the Pats defense. Sometimes the Pats two-gap and sometimes they use a one gap system. The defensive lineman he learned the most from was Alan Branch. Butler asked Branch questions when he was on the Pats about how to handle different situations that would arise in the game.
"I realized though that I was a different body type so I can't do the things that Alan did," Butler said. "Now, I watch Lawrence Guy. He is bigger than I am, but he is closer to my body type than Alan. He has been a great mentor. We argue sometimes and if I question him he will come back and say why he did what he did. "
Butler said he has developed a strong bond with the other defensive linemen. Butler told Pats Maven that the bonds off the field lead to a trust during games. The linemen can make adjustments quickly because of the trust they have developed.
"We have gelled," Butler said.
Butler has already played in the Super Bowl and in two NFL seasons he has known only winning. It is not something he takes for granted.
"I think about Jason McCourty (who has never been on a playoff team until this season) all the time. I am glad for him. I definitely appreciate that I am here. That's another reason why I don't care if I keep taking on double teams because if we keep winning and going to the playoffs it is a blessing," Butler said.