The initial encounter between Deon Butler and Pete Carroll was brief, but informative.
As the Seattle Seahawks new head football coach made his way through the locker room last March, he made a point of introducing himself to Butler as Butler prepared for Seattle’s first organized team session of the offseason.
Carroll mentioned to Butler that he recalled seeing the former Penn State standout at the Rose Bowl when the Nittany Lions faced Carroll’s USC Trojans. Carroll also mentioned how excited he was for the chance to turn the Seahawks around.
But the most important and reassuring thing Carroll said to Butler in their first face to-face conversation as coach and player was when Carroll told him the players would be given a fair evaluation before any decisions were made about playing time or placements on depth charts.
It was exactly what the Hylton High School graduate needed to hear.
“I wasn’t going to be pigeonholed before they see what I can do,” Butler said.
Although Butler never asked Carroll that day how he might fit into Carroll’s plans, it was certainly on his mind.
Butler had been drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the previous Seahawk regime of general manager Tim Ruskell and head coach Jim Mora Jr. Ruskell resigned Dec. 2 and Mora was fired Jan. 8 after one season after Seattle went 5-11.
With them gone, Butler wondered early on how another group would view him.
This was new to Butler. In high school, he had the same varsity coach for three years in Lou Sorrentino. In college, he had the same head coach in Joe Paterno.
Fair or unfair, Butler knew that his 5-foot-10 frame still left question marks in people’s minds about his ability to withstand physical play in the NFL. Would his size work against him since he didn’t fit the profile of the 6-4, 6-5 prototypical No. 1 receiver?
Butler also wasn’t sure what to make of new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who had been an assistant to Carroll last season at USC and prior to that had been an assistant coach for three years with the Denver Broncos.
Butler did a little bit of homework and soon got his answer in regards to Bates after talking to Eddie Royal, the former Virginia Tech and Westfield High School standout who Butler knew from their prep playing days.
Not a big receiver himself, the 5-10 Royal had been coached by Bates in Denver and had nothing but good things to say about him.
The conversation with Carroll in March only sealed things.
“I’m planning on a larger role,” Butler said. “I’m not sure how large it will be.”\
The biggest question now is how Seattle plans on using him. Last season, Butler played more as flanker, but this year, he said he could see more time in the slot.
Butler impressed Carroll during the various offseason workouts, especially in May when Butler spent time working with the No. 1 offense as veterans T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch sat out recovering from surgeries.
Besides Branch and Houshmandzadeh, Butler will contend for playing time with Mike Williams, a 6-5 former USC standout and 2005 first-round pick, and Golden Tate, a 5-9 rookie who Seattle drafted in the second round out of Notre Dame.
Butler’s biggest strengths remain his speed and his route-running abilities. Now, he is more experienced as well, something that provides him with another confidence boost as he prepares to start his second NFL training camp on Friday.
“I know what’s where,” Butler said. “I don’t have the deer-in-the headlights look. I know what it takes.”