On Monday at practice, there was an interesting tidbit about the Colts’ starting lineup that is worth noting: Darius Butler took the overwhelming majority of reps as the first-team safety.
Part of that was due to injuries. Both starting safeties were out on Monday, as Mike Adams got a rest day and Clayton Geathers is still on the non-football injury list. Rookie safety T.J. Green returned to practice and worked with the first-team, and at the other safety spot was Darius Butler - playing ahead of Winston Guy and others.
This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen Butler at safety, either. In fact, he’s been working there for the majority of his reps in training camp so far. It seems very possible that Butler could indeed be moving to safety.
“He’s got obviously great athleticism, but (is) really a bright guy,” Chuck Pagano said on Monday. “Understands the entire defense. So he gives you the flexibility if something happens, like you said we played him last year in what we called a penny package. He knows all the spots. He can play outside. He can play nickel, obviously, and a really good nickel at that. Having that experience back there and now getting some snaps while we’ve got some guys down at the safety spot. We have other guys that we’re going to work back there. Again, you can only dress so many in the back end and offensive line, so you’ve got to have guys that can play multiple spots. He’s a bright, bright guy and he knows the defense inside and out. He knows everybody’s job. So he does a great job of running the show back there. He’s a great communicator (in) getting guys lined up, getting the front tied in with the back.”
Earlier in camp, Pagano mentioned that they need to get Butler ready to play safety in case injuries necessitate it during a game, as teams can only dress 46 players on gameday. In the case a safety goes down, the Colts need to have Butler ready. The past few days have indicated that perhaps the move for Butler is a more permanent one than simply an injury replacement, however.
“Darius Butler is a football player defined,” defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said on Sunday. “He’s got great versatility. He’s got a great mind for the game. He thinks football on and off the field. He leads from no matter what position he’s playing. The safety position requires a little more communication than either the nickel or the corner position and he is a pro at that. He’s very clear. He and Mike (Adams) work together very well. It doesn’t matter who we put back there with Darius, we know it’s going to be right and we know it’s going to be communicated across the board. We know that if he has to be a thinking buddy for a young player he can handle that. So we’re going to do everything that we can to make sure our best 11 are on the field every situation for every down that we play.”
It’s very possible that Darius Butler is changing positions to safety, filling more of a defensive back role as a guy who can play either spot. At safety, Butler has the athleticism to make plays and did so in practice on Monday, intercepting a deep sideline pass from Andrew Luck that was intended for T.Y. Hilton. Butler also has plenty of experience as a slot cornerback, however, so the Colts can feel comfortable matching him up against receivers out of the slot if the formation requires it. In many ways, then, Butler would be playing a hybrid role as a defensive back. I think that would be a good spot for him, but we’ll have to wait and see what the Colts decide to do with him moving forward.
To be honest, I think a lot of it might depend on what other players do rather than what Butler does. For instance, Mike Adams and Clayton Geathers are still considered the starting safeties and that very likely won’t change. But if Geathers isn’t back by week one, that could impact the Colts’ plans. Perhaps the biggest player to watch when it comes to Butler at safety, however, is D’Joun Smith. The second year corner missed most of his rookie season due to injury and missed this year’s offseason program as well. He’s back at camp and practicing, and he has the potential to be a nice number three corner for Indianapolis. If he steps up in preseason and shows that he can be that reliable guy, it would surely make the Colts more comfortable in moving Butler to safety as they know there’s a guy ready to step up as the number three corner. Tevin Mitchel and Jalil Brown are other corners who could provide depth there too.
At this point, we really don’t know what the Colts’ plans are with Darius Butler, but what we do know is that he has been playing there in training camp. We’ll have to wait and find out whether that is simply necessitated by injuries or indicative of their long-term plans, but I think the talk of Butler at safety could be a legitimate possibility this season.