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Cornerback Devin M. Butler has thrived in his switch from the outside to the nickel

first_imgDevin M. Butler stood with bent knees, ready to pounce. Syracuse’s graduate transfer cornerback was in the nickel, lined up against Middle Tennessee State’s wide receiver Richie James, who has caught more than 100 balls in each of his first two seasons.MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill handled the snap and dropped back. To his left, James slid backward and turned toward him, anticipating a screen pass. Butler burst toward James as Stockstill released the ball, disrupting the third-down play and getting the Orange the ball back via a punt.At least once more, Butler thwarted a similar screen pass intended for James. Disappointment filled Syracuse’s (2-1) Week 2 loss to Middle Tennessee State, but Butler’s emergence as a nickel corner — a position he had not played before — was a bright spot. To maintain its top-10 third-down defense, SU needs Butler to sustain this level of play.“(The nickel) has to have a lot of coverage skills,” head coach Dino Babers said. “But he’s still got to be able to come up and play the run just in case they decide to run the ball. I think Butler’s got both of those skills, and I think he’s doing a nice job for us.”Butler transferred from Notre Dame to play his graduate season with the Orange. He said he primarily played on the outside at UND, but that SU coaches thought he could fit as the nickel.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe nickel presents a set of challenges. Sometimes, teams shift their best receiver from the outside into the slot on third down. Mostly, the nickel corner guards the opponent’s slot receiver.For Butler, that meant shifting from covering receivers who were more in the mold of Steve Ishmael (6-foot-2, 209 pounds) to covering receivers who have frames similar to Ervin Philips (5-foot-11, 181 pounds).The slot receivers are often faster than outside counterparts and have more room to work with by virtue of working in the middle of the field, Butler said. He attributes the success he’s had in his transition to using his hands and playing physically to reduce the amount of space receivers have.“It was a little tough,” Butler said. “There are a lot more things to look at, a lot more keys to read. But just with repetition, I got better with time.”Syracuse had increased competition among its cornerbacks in the offseason. Two relatively inexperienced players — sophomore Scoop Bradshaw and redshirt sophomore Chris Fredrick — won the starting jobs on the outside. Juwan Dowels, who started last season at cornerback before going down with an injury, has rotated with them.After Fan Fest in mid-August, Babers said SU had a “nucleus” of four players who could see the field at that position. He said the Orange might run six-deep there. That was in part because of the three outside cornerbacks, as well as graduate transfers Butler and Jordan Martin. Martin has since moved to safety.Redshirt junior safety Rodney Williams said there was a different atmosphere in the defensive-back room this offseason. He said he felt the unit was better and deeper, and part of it was because of the influx of new veteran talent, including Butler.“We have added some older guys with experience,” Williams said. “They’re not freshmen coming in. They understand how they need to learn the playbook. They played football so they played at a high level against really tough players … it feels like we have a group of veterans.”Even at a new position, Butler seems to play like a veteran. Comments Published on September 20, 2017 at 12:06 am Contact Tomer: [email protected] | @tomer_langer Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more