When it comes to granting media interviews, Malcolm Butler is one of the most reliable players in the Patriots locker room. Which is why the cornerback's recent reticence, combined with a diminished role in the Saints game, made him a sought-after subject this week.
After speaking candidly for five minutes, he apologized for not making himself available earlier. But Butler made up for it by truthfully answering every question – including the difficult ones, like the very first he fielded.
Butler maintained why he wasn't surprised that he didn't start in Week 2 versus the Saints, although he never received a direct explanation from his coaches.
"I haven't been performing at the level that I should be," he declared. "I just accepted my role [in New Orleans]. Went out there and did my job. Tried to.
"Most definitely, I do use it as motivation. You know, we've got a lot of great players on this team, but everyone wants to be out there. I'm a guy that wants to be out there."
After playing his first three seasons on an undrafted rookie contract, it appeared for a time as if he was destined to be dealt to the Saints this past offseason. However, Butler eventually accepted a one-year restricted free agent tender offer to remain with the Patriots, worth $3.9 million. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018 and admits that he's playing with a sense of urgency this season. And not being on the field as much so far this season isn't the way he envisioned 2017 unfolding.
"I kind of thought about it like that," Butler continued, "but I can't worry about anything but what's happening right now. Complaining or feeling sorry for myself is not going to make me perform better. So, I just got to keep rolling. I'm going to get it rolling. Stay focused… we've all had those feelings before, but we wake up and realize the reality that it's not going to help you.
"Whatever role that I get, I got a job to do so I've got to do it, keep grinding, keep working hard at practice, believing in yourself, having a lot of confidence… Sometimes I question myself, but I'm finding my way back. You better believe that.
"There've been times I've been through a lot of [challenging] stuff, and I made it through that, and I made it to the National Football League. If I can handle that, I can put my mind together to make it past this situation."
In the meantime, trade rumors have begun circulating around Butler, yet he contends that he tries not to focus on them because "This is where I play, this is where I'm happy."
"Just got to perform better," he asserted. "It's still early, but I need a sense of urgency, and you'll see that. No excuses. I'll be ready to roll. Lights out."
When asked if he's been told whether or not he'll be back in the starting lineup versus Houston this Sunday, Butler replied, "No, I haven't. I'm practicing like it, though. So, I'll be ready. It starts at practice."
The Patriots received some welcome news Thursday when injured right tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle/concussion) returned to the practice field after sitting out Wednesday's action.
For the second straight day, three of the four players injured against New Orleans – tight end Rob Gronkowski (groin), cornerback Eric Rowe (groin), and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (left knee) – all appeared in uniform on the field when media were allowed to watch the team during its stretching period. The same could be said of wide receiver Danny Amendola (concussion/knee), linebacker/co-captain Dont'a Hightower (right knee), special teams co-captain Matthew Slater (hamstring), who took part on a limited basis Wednesday.
On a sour note, running back Rex Burkhead, who sustained a rib injury against the Saints, missed his second straight workout, while defensive tackle Vincent Valentine's nagging left knee kept him off the field at the start Thursday. He was able to return to practicing on Thursday after being held out of the New Orleans contest and most of last week's practices.
NFL representatives are in the process of assessing the status of Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, where the Patriots are scheduled to visit the Oakland Raiders in November. Following Tuesday's magnitude 7.1 earthquake in the Mexican capital, there have been conflicting reports about the structural integrity of and potential damage to the venue.
A soccer match scheduled for last night at Estadio Azteca was postponed. While NFL International executive Mark Waller told a conference call of reporters that initial estimates showed no significant damage or cause to relocate the upcoming Patriots-Raiders contest, a final determination would not be made until a full inspection is completed by late Thursday.
"The initial information from that review is the stadium is remarkably in good shape, and that's a testament to the construction and the safety devices that were put in place when that stadium was built 50 years ago," remarked Waller. "The stadium was actually built with four large gaps in it to allow the stadium to move in the event of an earthquake.
"The initial reports are good, but our commitment to ownership is to give a full report… that will cover the stadium, the hotel facilities that we will be using, and also the airport, which as some of you know was briefly closed yesterday but is now open and, I believe, almost fully operational."