Though mostly unheralded to the average NFL fan, San Diego Chargers’ Donald Butler is one of the top inside linebackers in the game today. With just two seasons of on-field experience under his belt, he has quickly become a fan favorite in San Diego and Pro Bowl-caliber player. He may not be the most physically-gifted athlete, nor is he an intimidating force to be reckoned with. But he is a solid tackler, smart player and seems to always be at the right place at the right time.
Butler has gotten better each year he’s been in the league. After missing his entire rookie year due to an Achilles injury, he had a good sophomore season, but played sporadically, usually coming off the field on third downs and obvious passing situations. In year three, injuries ended his season early, but he still showed continued improvement in his game. Butler became an every-down player, not missing a single snap when healthy and making huge strides defending the pass. Now, heading into year four, he will look to improve as a player and develop into the team’s new leader on defense.
The Chargers lost a lot of veteran leadership this offseason, including the team’s vocal leader of the last two seasons, Takeo Spikes. Defensive coordinator John Pagano approached Butler a long time ago about some day filling the leadership role. Butler has so far embraced the role and is already viewed by his teammates as the unquestioned leader of the defense.
A large part of being a leader in San Diego will be mentoring fellow inside linebacker Manti Te’o, who has leaned heavily on Butler to learn.
“He’ll just make sure after every play if I have questions he’s always open,” Te’o said about Butler. “Guys like him, I’m really thankful for him, because he didn’t have to.”
At just 24 years of age, Butler is mature beyond his years and quickly becoming even more than what most expected him to be when he entered the league as a third-round draft choice.
2013 will be a big year for Butler, as his rookie contract expires at the end of the season. If he continues to improve as a player as well as show he can be a leader for this team, he will be in for a huge pay day. The team has already hinted that extending Butler will be the team’s top priority next offseason, and a great 2013 will certainly make that a reality.