As we approach game one of the preseason, when the Carolina Panthers face off with the Baltimore Ravens Thursday evening. We shine the spotlight on Panthers’ rookie defensive tackle, Vernon Butler.
Carolina’s first round selection (30th overall) was used on the talented, yet little known defensive tackle from Louisiana Tech, Vernon Butler. Now that training camp is half over and preseason play begins on Thursday, let’s take a closer look at the Panthers’ first round pick.
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Unless you’ve searched for ‘Vernon Butler highlights‘ on YouTube or had the opportunity to visit Spartanburg, South Carolina and attend a Panthers’ practice; you may have never seen Butler play. He is a huge man, listed at 6′ 4″ – 325 lbs. “Big Vern”, his appropriately coined nickname definitely fits the “Hog Molly” mold that Panthers’ GM Dave Gettleman so frequently desires up front.
He is an extremely quiet and soft spoken guy. I know first hand as I recently obtained his autograph in Spartanburg where he was quietly and humbly signing and speaking with fans. His almost shy personality has been on display in most of his media segments and interviews. That being said, he is anything but quiet and shy when on the field in the one-on-one battles with offensive lineman or the situational seven-on-seven. Butler transforms into a man on a mission to wreak havoc up front. “Vernon draws so much attention and if he doesn’t, he is going to be in your backfield wreaking havoc,” Louisiana Tech’s head coach Skip Holtz said of Butler.
Another unique aspect about Butler, when you consider his size, is his athleticism and mobility. Some of those characteristics come from playing the power forward position for basketball in Summitt, Mississippi during high school. His mobility is very evident when you watch how he comes out of his stance taking his initial first step.
Eugene Robinson, a contributor of Panthers.com and a former player, compared Butlers’ quick first step and explosiveness to that of Hall of Fame great Warren Sapp. Although he is raw and will need to witness NFL speed real time in games to account and adjust for it, that is high praise coming from a former player. After watching footage of Butler in college and seeing him in four live practices personally, I am unsure how he wasn’t recruited by the likes of Ole Miss, LSU, or Alabama; the region where he played high school football.
Louisiana Tech’s defensive line coach Rick Petri, who probably knows him as good as anyone, had this to say about Butler:
“Vernon is just extremely athletic for a big guy,” and “He’s flexible — he can bend at the knees and the hips — he’s just a flexible athlete. He’s got all those physical qualifies but also he understands the game. He’s got the package.”
In conclusion, the good thing about Vernon being drafted by Carolina is that he has time to develop and learn behind the likes of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. This will only benefit him and possibly prolong his career. So enjoy the preseason games and watch Vernon Butler closely. He will likely play more in these games than during the regular season, barring any injuries up front for Carolina. He will surely make mistakes and possibly seem uncomfortable in his first game or two, but Gettleman knows talent, and Butler’s upside is off the charts.