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A quick study
There’s no denying that Deon Butler is fast. No, make that really fast.
Whether it’s running a 40-yard dash or a fly pattern, the Seahawks’ rookie wide receiver – and third-round pick in last weekend’s NFL draft – travels at the equivalent of the football sound barrier. You know, the type of speed that elicits ooohs when his afterburners kick in.
Butler was clocked as fast as 4.28 seconds in the 40 at the scouting combine in February. He has been flaunting that same speed during the Seahawks’ post-draft minicamp, which concludes after a fourth practice Sunday morning.
But Butler also is proving to be a quick study.
The graduate of Penn State didn’t get the CliffsNotes version of the Seahawks’ playbook until Tuesday, and wasn’t handed the War and Peace edition until he showed up at the team’s headquarters on Friday morning.
But that didn’t stop Butler from impressing offensive coordinator Greg Knapp during the classroom session that preceded the first practice.
“We have a play in called ‘Wally 4 Boz,’ ” Knapp said Saturday during the break between practices. “And one of the questions thrown his way, from a lighthearted standpoint, was, ‘OK, who in this room knows ‘Boz’?”
Butler had the answer: Former linebacker Brian Bosworth, who last played for the Seahawks in 1989, when Butler was 3.
Asked about his mastery of that trivial pursuit, Butler shrugged his shoulders and broke into a smile before offering, “A lot of the rookies didn’t know who ‘The Boz’ was, and I knew. I think the guys were impressed with that a little bit. I watch too much TV, I guess.”
Butler’s knowledge went beyond Boz.
“Coach Knapp calls on people just out of the blue in meetings, and he called on Deon quite a bit (Friday), and he was ready with the answers,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “So obviously he did some studying and it was a great first day for him.”
Knapp, in his first season with the Seahawks, does more than just ask questions. He works the meeting room like, well, TV talk show host Phil Donahue.
Phil Donahue? “He actually circles the room like Phil Donahue or somebody, just walking around, asking questions, putting you on the spot,” Hasselbeck said.
It’s all part of Knapp’s teaching technique, and a seeing-the-big-picture approach being stressed by Jim Mora in his first year as Seahawks coach. Mora and Knapp want their players to shed the blinders that can be worrying only about what their responsibility is on a certain play. They want each player to know what everyone else is supposed to be doing, as well.
“In the first minicamp (in April), I asked Walter Jones a receiver question, and he answered it correctly,” Knapp said of the team’s nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle.
No madness, just a method to playing better because the players will be able to see beyond their role on any given play.
“It really helps,” Knapp said. “And when it shows up is on Sundays, because as a coach you can’t show every defensive look you’d like going into every game. But if the guys understand the big-picture concept, then they can handle adjustments in the game that maybe we didn’t have enough reps to show them, because they understand the whole picture.”
One of the things that must be understood about Butler is that while he is fast, he’s more than just a fast receiver. He also runs good routes, and knows how to use his hands to do more than just catch the ball.
Those elements will be vital in his transition to the NFL because he is, after all, 5 feet 10 and 182 pounds. Butler will need to use his hands to free himself from press coverage, as he did on a couple of occasions Saturday.
“Guys are going to be licking their chops when they see him out there because of his frame,” veteran safety Deon Grant said. “So using his hands and using his feet to get off the line is going to be real big for him.”
Butler also is learning that speed – even what club president Tim Ruskell labels “off the chart type speed” – will get you only so far in the NFL. It happened on a deep pass during the Saturday morning practice. Butler was there, but so was third-year cornerback Josh Wilson.
“Josh kind of nudged me in the back a little bit,” Butler said of Wilson, who made the interception. “Josh was right there. Maybe in college I pull away.”
Butler’s most obvious attribute remains his speed – an element that has been missing from the Seahawks passing game. But it will take more than fast feet to infuse his talents into that passing game that also includes T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and tight end John Carlson.
“Deon still has a lot to learn,” Knapp said. “He’s going to have to face a lot of press corners, and that’s going to be a good challenge for a smaller guy. So he’s going to have to work on a lot of things.”
Like continuing to run precise routes, improving the ability to use his hands to create space when he breaks from the line and relying on his quickness as much as his speed. He has some good mentors. In addition to his current teammates, there also are a couple of former Seahawks receivers – Bobby Engram, the receiver who held the Penn State record for career receptions until Butler broke it last season and still holds the Seahawks’ single-season mark (94 in 2007); and Ricky Proehl, who played two seasons with the Seahawks (1995-96) during his 17-year NFL career.
“I’ve never really just relied on my speed,” Butler said. “Route running is a big part of it on this level, and how fast you get in and out of your cuts. So definitely that’s one of the things I’ll work a lot on this offseason.”
At least Butler has shown to be a quick study. Read