Back to the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots have been accused of having a weak defensive backfield for a few years. Injuries to key players like Rodney Harrison and Tank Williams are, I believe, part of the problem. Another issue? Average corners. Since the departure of Asante Samuel to the Eagles, it could be argued we've lacked a shutdown corner. I liked Ellis Hobbs because he was one of the most dangerous kick return men in the business. But he was serviceable corner, not the "don't come over here" guy we needed. To his credit, he did play hurt most of 2007 and that says something about the man. But I believe we need a risk taker at this position, a cowboy, if you will.
Corner is a crowded spot these days. Both Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs appear to be locks for more snaps than anyone else. Second year men Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite could see action, too. But I believe the future of this position is Darius Butler and I also believe he'll get a chance to show his stuff this year.
Belichick saw something in this kid when he drafted him in the second round at 41 overall and third for the Patriots, behind S Patrick Chung and DT Ron Brace. What he saw was a player with real physical talent. At 5-11, he could be considered undersized for the position, but don't let that fool you; he's got a 43 inch vertical leap. You read that right. 43 inches. From patriots.com:
"I think I have good physical tools; I'm athletic. I can get stronger and I look forward to improving all of my game," he said. "Now it's my profession, it's my job. It's all I have to do to make my livelihood. I'm looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity."
If given a chance, could Darius prove he's one of the premiere corners in the business? I do believe he could. From his bio on patriots.com:
In his last two seasons as a starting left cornerback, no opposing receiver was able to catch a touchdown pass or record more than two first downs in any game against him.
Oh yeah, I like that. But let's not forget another reason for his presence: he's an incredible kick returner, something we definitely need after return man Ellis Hobbs' trade. But the question is will Darius get the exposure he needs to get the role he might be capable of? He's behind four guys, but I think that, given the chance, his natural gifts and work ethic will shine through. And he will become that shutdown corner we've longed for.