When Victor Butler arrived in New Orleans last spring, a fresh start beckoned. After four seasons in Dallas, learning the ropes of the 3-4 outside linebacker positions behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, Butler hoped to take the next step in his promising career upon signing a two-year contract with the Saints.
He had reunited with Rob Ryan, his defensive coordinator in Dallas who had been tabbed by Sean Payton for the same role in New Orleans. The Saints, who were shifting to Ryan's preferred 3-4 scheme, needed all kinds of help across the board on what was a historically bad defense in 2012. The experience, knowledge and most importantly, talent that Butler brought into the fold was expected to help set the tone if the Saints were to show any defensive improvement in 2013. Victor Butler looks to put his injury-ruined 2013 season behind him.
Those plans came crashing down nearly a year ago, as Butler sustained what would turn out to be a season-ending knee injury following a collision with teammate Mark Ingram during OTAs. The Saints held out some hope that Butler would be able to make a late-season return, and placed him on the reserve/PUP list at the end of preseason. However, he was moved to season-ending injured reserve in December, slamming the door on his first season as a Saint without a single game under his belt.
Even without their prized free agent, the Saints still managed to show marked improvement under Ryan's tutelage in 2013. New Orleans finished an impressive top-5 in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense, and ranked 4th in total sacks. In Butler's stead, the likes of Junior Galette and Parys Haralson stepped up and contributed. As much defensive improvement as they showed, Butler knows his added presence can help propel the Saints' defense from good to great.
"I'm excited," Butler said of the prospect of returning at full strength in 2014. "They've got a few spots to move, so I could help. When you start out No. 1, it's kind of hard to help. But top four means you've got some wiggle room, some adjustments to make, and we'll be No. 1 next year."
The former Cowboy, who Pro Football Focus graded as the 15th-most effective 3-4 outside linebacker in terms of rushing the passer in 2012, was on the verge of what could have been his true coming-out party before going down injured. Now that he is nearly recovered, Butler, owner of 11 career sacks and 4 forced fumbles, knows he can be an asset to what is already a special group of players.
"The talent is just tremendous," he said. "You've got great guys, guys that believe in each other and play for one another, guys that will run through brick walls for one another."
The 26-year old is now poised to provide the Saints with another effective pass rush option off the edge. It was a role he thrived in under Ryan's stewardship in Dallas, but mainly as a reserve. A healthy Butler will now have a chance to start, and given his ability to drop into coverage, he could find himself on the field for more than just early or obvious passing downs. Matched with a capable bookend in Galette and plenty of beef in the middle in the form of Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins, the table will be set for the two outside 'backers to get after opposing Quarterbacks.
Victor Butler hopes 2014 gives him the chance he was prepared to take last summer. Under contract for another season at a more-than-reasonable $1.4 million, Butler will have a chance to prove his fitness, show he can still be an effective pass rusher, and maximize his market value heading into free agency next spring. A strong, productive and injury-free campaign could entice New Orleans to try and bring him back beyond 2014.
It goes without saying that a healthy Butler should add a healthy dose of spice to a Rob Ryan defense that is already quite piquant in its own right.