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Flashes from undrafted Patriots defensive lineman Adam Butler leave optimism for more

When the light is on, Adam Butler has shown what the Patriots saw in him.

NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Few rookies are consistent. Even fewer undrafted rookies are.

Adam Butler isn’t an exception.

There are series where you don’t see No. 70 even though he’s present. There are snaps where the jump off the ball isn’t there, or the containment slips away. But when the free-agent defensive lineman out of Vanderbilt has the light switch flipped towards the ceiling, he’s hard to mark as absent. He’s hard to stop.

Butler can be 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds worth of power, quickness and positional flexibility when the wires are fastened tight. And in the second half against the Houston Texans on Saturday night, they were. The Vanderbilt product hit on all three filaments. He hit hard.

Butler lined up between three-technique defensive tackle and seven-technique defensive end as the New England Patriots’ second preseason game wore on at NRG Stadium. For a former offensive lineman, and one who went on to lead the Commodores’ defense in sacks last fall, that’s notable.

Also notable was the way he shouldered into the B-gap opposite Texans guard David Quessenberry in the third quarter. From there, Butler halted third-round Texas running back D’Onta Foreman after a gain of two, slowing traffic as veterans Alan Branch and David Harris closed in.

That kept Houston out of the end zone, at least for the time being.

A quiet spell followed.

In the fourth quarter, Butler resurfaced. Matched up head-to-head with Houston right tackle Julién Davenport – a fourth-round draft choice via Bucknell this spring – Butler benched and ripped. He pushed up on the chest plate, establishing enough leverage from the ground up.

Butler pivoted from there, cutting in and holding a Dare Ogunbowale rush to one yard.

A down later, Butler did not need to engage to make a dent.

He kicked out wider and got Davenport investing all his weight on his outside foot. It was an attack that had no counter. And a spin move ensued on the way to registering a quarterback hit against sixth-year pro Brandon Weeden.

It was sudden. It was unexpected. It was the type of pirouette a player of such size isn’t supposed to make.

It still may be only a fraction of what’s required for Butler to make New England’s 53.

There’s Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo and fellow undrafted rookie Josh Augusta on the Patriots’ defensive tackle depth chart. At defensive end, there’s Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Deatrich Wise, Geneo Grissom, undrafteds in Keionta Davis and Caleb Kidder, and a handful of hybrid edge-linebackers to factor into the equation before 37-plus players leave the active roster in the coming weeks.

Where does that leave someone with an interior build and the raw athleticism to serve as a big D-end? A player who could set the edge on a three-man line or cause sporadic commotion on the interior. A player who isn’t necessarily the sum of all those possibilities at once?

Good question.

Butler finished with two tackles and the QB hit in New England’s 27-23 loss on Saturday. And in his debut the week prior against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he started and broke into the backfield on the second play from scrimmage, yet went without registering a statistic on 24 snaps.

There’ll have to be more from Butler. To this point, there has been a mix bag to pull from. He’s been in the forefront and out of it. He’s been with the ones and the threes.

But at times, regardless of whom the Butler’s been alongside or up against, there’s been just what you’d want to see.

Perhaps the Patriots will be left wanting to see more.