The Patriots drafted cornerback Darius Butler in the second round in 2009, but gave up on him after just two seasons — a rarity in the NFL — when he was released before the 2011 campaign.
Butler will get the opportunity to show the Patriots they made a mistake on Sunday because he will be firmly in the crosshairs as part of a depleted secondary for the Colts, who have won four straight games and five of six to be a surprising 6-3 after a 2-14 season a year ago.
The Colts lost starting cornerback Jerraud Powers for the season, and have been without Vontae Davis — acquired in a preseason trade from the Dolphins — the previous two games. If Davis can’t go again, Cassius Vaughn will get the start with Butler, with Josh Gordy the nickel back. Both Vaughn and Gordy were undrafted free agents in 2010.
Butler was an athletic talent and certainly well liked by his teammates and coaches, but he had trouble with his confidence. When he was benched after a strong start as a rookie, Butler never really regained his confidence.
He’s been regaining his swagger — along with playing time — with the Colts. He went from playing three snaps against the Packers in Week 5, to 49 combined in his next two games against the Jets and Dolphins, to all 72 Thursday night against the Jaguars.
If it’s confidence he lacked while calling Gillette Stadium home, Butler should have it in his return after posting a fumble recovery and two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) against Jacksonville.
A look at the Colts:
Interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who coordinated the Steelers from 2007-11, has not been shy about throwing caution to the wind. Despite having a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck, the Colts are throwing on 59 percent of the snaps. Luck (57.5 completion percentage) has been terrific of late.He refuses to be scared of pressure, and uses his athleticism to keep plays alive and to make them with his feet. Arians’s scheme has not been overly exotic, which is not surprising considering they have only one real target: superb veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, whom the Patriots tried to sign in the offseason. His 69 receptions are more than the next two receivers, Donnie Avery and tight end Dwayne Allen, combined (63). Expect the Patriots to double Wayne and make Luck beat them with Avery, who is finally healthy and can be trouble in spots, and speedster rookie T.Y. Hilton. The Colts use a multiple tight ends, with rookies Allen and Coby Fleener at the top of the depth chart and former Steeler Weslye Saunders. Former Boston College star Anthony Castonzo has been very good at left tackle. He has decent feet but could have a tough time with Chandler Jones’s bullrush. The rest of the line has been patchwork with center Samson Satele and right tackle Winston Justice dealing with injuries. But the group fights hard and is decent.
Coordinator Greg Manusky, who did the same duties previously for the 49ers and Chargers, has helped Chuck Pagano implement the 3-4 scheme he ran for the Ravens. The Colts blitz a ton, especially when they get behind. Former Raven end Cory Redding has been very good on the line. The Colts will use a heavy line rotation, and it’s mostly a high-effort group that can get pushed around. They’ll try to shoot gaps. Veteran Dwight Freeney (two sacks) is playing outside linebacker for the first time in his career and is improving each game, but he’s not the same player he once was though his spin move is still devastating at times. The man to watch is Robert Mathis (six sacks) on the left side, who should have a must-watch matchup with Sebastian Vollmer. Veteran safety Antoine Bethea is playing some of the best football of his career. He’s still fast, and will be a force against the run. Former Ravens backup Tom Zbikowski is smart and makes the calls, but he’s susceptible to the deep ball.
Former Patriots Super Bowl hero Adam Vinatieri is 18 of 24 on the season, including three misses from 30-39 yards. Punter Pat McAfee has a big leg (47.8 average). Hilton is a threat on punt returns.Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.