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The Butler will do it
The Seahawks’ flanker position has been passed from one Deion to another Deon.
Deon Butler, a third-round draft choice last year, has been elevated to the starting lineup after Deion Branch was traded back to the New England Patriots on Monday.
The Deon-for-Deion move was rooted in the Patriots’ interest in reacquiring Branch, who they traded to the Seahawks in 2006; the emergence of Butler into a receiver who has earned more playing time; and the recent addition of Brandon Stokley to inherit the slot spot where Branch was at his most productive in 4¼ seasons with the Seahawks.
“New England came after him aggressively,” coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday when asked about the decision to move Branch. “We didn’t have any intention of trading him at the time.
“I’ve come to learn that he had – obviously with the history he had playing there – in years past some interest that he was thinking that it was fun to get back there for him.”
Carroll then added, “That didn’t enter into.”
The potential of Butler and Stokley to make more plays if they played more did, however.
First the veteran Stokley, who was signed Sept. 28 and then went out and caught four passes for 62 yards against the St. Louis Rams after only three days of practice.
“Without Brandon Stokley coming here we never would have thought about it,” Carroll said of trading Branch. “But Stokley came in here and showed his ability right off the bat.”
It definitely helped that Stokley, 34, had played in this offense under coordinator Jeremy Bates when both were with the Denver Broncos (2007-08).
“With the background he had with Jeremy and then his ability to come out here and prove it to us that he was ready to take over that role really made it an opportunity for us,” Carroll said. “It gives us a (draft) pick that we didn’t have and it gives us some ability in free agency that we didn’t have that will help us down the road.”
Now Butler, who caught only 15 passes as a rookie. But also Ben Obomanu, who will share time at flanker with Butler; and rookie Golden Tate, who will backup split end Mike Williams.
With Butler’s speed and ball skills and Tate’s abundant athletic ability, the Seahawks need to find out if they can match their potential with production. And the best way to do that is to give them more playing time.
“It shows faith in Deon Butler and Ben Obomanu to step up, and all of our guys,” Carroll said of going so young at such a vital spot after the trade of Branch. “So that all fit together pretty well and we thought that was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”
It also created the opportunity Butler has been waiting for. He led the Seahawks – and shared the league lead – with 15 receptions during the preseason. If Carroll said that Butler was one of the most improved players on the club once during the offseason he said it half a dozen times.
“It’s good,” Butler said, standing in front of his locker before practice. “Obviously you come here to play football and I’ve been working hard in practice. So it feels good that they’re confident in me to be able to slide me into that spot and I’ll just go out and produce.”
Butler has seen a lot since joining the Seahawks in April 2009. Bobby Engram was not re-signed when he became a free agent that offseason. Nate Burleson left in free agency this March. T.J. Houshmandzadeh was released in September on the roster to cut to 53 players. Now Branch has been traded.
“Everyone started at this point at some time,” Butler said of opportunity now knocking at his cubicle. “Talking to those guys – T.J., Deion – they were always pretty much backups and then at some point their time came. For me right now, it’s an opportunity presenting itself.”
Butler can glance back at his preseason production to get a glimpse of what might be coming.
“It was big,” Butler said of becoming a playmaker this summer. “Obviously coaches get a good feel for a guy in practice and it’s very important. But it’s always about what you step out there and do during the games.
“So just to kind of get those guys to see me out there in live-game situations, that was a big thing that they saw I could go out and play with the big guys.”
Entering Sunday’s big game against the Bears in Chicago, Butler has eight receptions for a 10.4-yard average and one touchdown.
Pressure? Butler doesn’t look at the situation that way.
“I don’t think it’s pressure,” he said. “I don’t have to do anything amazing. Like coach Carroll was just talking about how I’ve been doing well in practice and doing well in games. So I don’t need to do anything more amazing, because that’s when you start stepping out of your boundaries.
“So I just need to continue what I’ve been doing all along. Obviously they’re pleased with that right now. So I just need to continue to do that and get better.”
So there won’t be a list of cornerbacks he’ll be facing the rest of the season plastered in Butler’s locker – a la the receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson?
“Nah,” Butler said with a laugh. “That’s not my thing. I just go out and work hard to get better and help this offense get rolling.”
The coaches aren’t just counting on that after the Deon-for-Deion switch, they’re planning on it.