The pass was right on target from quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. All Deon Butler had to do was pull the deep throw in and he was off for a touchdown.
It was the first play from scrimmage in Seattle’s final exhibition game last Thursday against Oakland and Butler, making his first ever NFL start, was in prime position to make it a memorable one right from the get go.
But the Raider defender covering Butler got just enough of a hand in Butler’s face to block his view. Butler ended up misjudging the ball on its descent and dropped it. Disappointed, he returned to the huddle, momentarily distracted by the missed opportunity.
“That first one was haunting me for sure,” Butler said.
The good thing is that Butler shook it off. Two plays later, Whitehurst went back to Butler and found him for an 11-yard catch and Butler never looked back.
Playing the entire first half and a little bit in the second before coming out, Butler finished with a career-high seven receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown. It was the type of performance that showcased Butler’s abilities as well as how much his role has increased in Seattle’s offensive scheme.
The second-year receiver has impressed Seattle’s first-year coach Pete Carroll with his play.
So much so that after the Oakland game, Carroll was quoted on seahawks.com as saying this about Butler: “He is, by far, the most improved player on the offensive side of the ball since we’ve come here. He really is a factor, and I’m really excited about that. We weren’t sure how that was going to pan out, but he’s really made effective plays in many games.”
Seattle’s decision to release T.J.Houshmandzadeh was one indication of the direction the Seahawks are going.
While parting ways with the team’s leading receiver last season was done in part to free up salary cap room, it also gives more playing time to the younger members of Seattle’s receiving corps, including Butler.
“That move showed the faith they have in the younger guys,” Butler said.
When Carroll was hired as Seattle’s new head coach in January, Butler wasn’t sure how he might fit into the Seahawks’ plans. Butler knew that Carroll, while coaching at USC, had a reputation for favoring tall wide receivers. Butler stands only 5-10.
But when the two talked during an initial exchange at an organized team session in March, Carroll assured Butler that everyone would get a fair chance.
“If you make the plays, you will be rewarded,” Butler said. “He was true to his word.”
There have been some adjustments, Butler said. The Seattle coaches have told him to no longer use his hands when trying to shake a defender and get off the line of scrimmage. There also been some changes to route running, but for the most part, Butler has found his rhythm as he prepares to play both the slot and at wide out.
Butler is also excited about the arrival of former Penn State teammate Michael Robinson. A running back, Robinson was released by San Francisco and signed by Seattle last week.
Although Butler and Robinson only played together for a season at Penn State, it was one that meant a lot to Butler.
While Robinson was a senior quarterback in 2005, Butler was a red-shirt freshman, starting his first year as a wide receiver. Robinson guided Butler along, helping him to find his way. Butler finished that season as the team’s leading receiver with 37 catches.
The day before his signing with Seattle was announced, Robinson called Butler and told him he was coming. When Robinson got to Seattle, Butler made it a point to show him around and get him familiar with the surroundings.
The two have stayed in touch over the years. In fact, Butler assisted Robinson this past summer at Robinson’s football camp in Richmond. Robinson played at Varina High School.
“It meant so much to me how he led our team [at Penn State],” Butler said. “I’m glad I can help him out.”