FOXBOROUGH — Malcolm Butler remembers his first training camp with the Patriots.
He remembers processing the blur of new teammates, new plays, and a new system, listening to the cries of tens of thousands of fans dutifully waiting through heat or rain just to watch their team practice, taking in the magnitude of the stadium, while just trying to figure out where all the play clocks were.
“It’s a great feeling,” Butler said. “You know, when I first got here, came out, I was shocked.”
Now in his third camp, Butler has less to pick up on. He was interested in feeling out the new turf at Gillette Stadium on Monday night during the team’s practice, but otherwise was in a familiar routine.
Going through training camp without a new contract?
“It is what it is,” Butler said. “I’m going to come out here and work, contract or not. I’m here for the team.”
Defending against an offense switching between quarterbacks in practice?
“They’re just back there playing quarterback,” Butler said. “I’m just focusing on my man, knocking the ball down, so, you know, it is what it is.”
Preparing for a year where the Patriots defense will aim to make the jump from good (10th in the league in points against in 2015) to great?
“The standards are high every year for the New England Patriots,” Butler said.
Just football. Same old, same old.
One member of the Patriots defense who ran drills going over a series of situations — third and 10, first and 10, goal line — along with Butler and the rest of the first-teamers still had more to process.
Linebacker Shea McClellin, a 27-year-old former Bear who the Patriots signed to a three-year deal in March, said he was still picking things up.
“It’s been so far, so good,” McClellin said. “Like I said, you know, definitely, like you said you’ve got to learn not just your position, you’ve just got to learn the concept of the play and know what everyone is doing, but you know, so far, so good.”
The 2012 first-rounder said that some of the older players, like Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long, were helping him understand the defense.
McClellin knows how to learn a system after having played for three coaches in four years in Chicago, but the Patriots are notorious for giving a lot of homework. McClellin’s reading list is probably extra long due to his versatility.
McClellin can line up at linebacker or defensive end and said he didn’t have a preference for where he would play with the Patriots. McClellin spent the spring practices playing at defensive end, but he was getting work at linebacker Monday, while lining up on the outside on passing downs.
“Yeah, I like doing whatever,” McClellin said. “Honestly, It’s not my job to pick where I play. That’s the coach’s job, and I’m just going to come out, work hard, you know, show them what I’ve got, and they’ll put me where I best fit, but I don’t care either way.”
Inside or out, standing up or with a hand down, the 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound hybrid will do whatever he is asked. The one thing McClellin has said he does want is a chance to rush the passer in a team’s system.
He should be able to do that with the Patriots, as long as he learns the playbook.