Butler is a physical defensive back who teams with Chris Chancellor to form one of the top cornerback tandems in the ACC. And now operating under the aggressive style of defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, his skills will be tested more than they ever have before in 2009.
Coming off a season that saw him record 52 total tackles, including three for loss, one sack and four interceptions, Butler's confidence level is at an all-time high as he takes a step closer to being a solid middle round draft pick in 2010.
Needless to say, he should be up for the challenge.
#4. DE Da'Quan Bowers
If this list were based on sheer potential, Bowers would certainly be No. 1, but coming off just one year of play, he enters the season at No. 3. The former No. 2 prospect in the country according to Scout.com showed flashes of strong play last year as a true freshman, despite drawing double teams and with a year under his belt in 2009, the sky is the limit.
Bowers finished his freshman campaign third on the team in tackles for loss with eight, to go along with 37 tackles and one sack playing mostly as a strong side end.
Da'Quan Bowers could play multiple positions on Clemson's defensive line in 2009.
#3. S DeAndre McDaniel
One of Clemson's most versatile defenders, DeAndre McDaniel will settle into this more natural role of strong safety this year now that Mike Hamlin has moved on to the NFL. The junior standout is physical player with strong cover skills who just now appears to be coming into his own after returning a fumble for a touchdown in the Gator Bowl against Nebraska and then following that up with a great spring.
Don't be surprised to see McDaniel register triple-digit tackles as well produce as a large number of tackles for loss in 2009. Simply put, he's the ultimate playmaker that can be used in coverage situations or close to the line of scrimmage.
Similar to Hamlin, he too could prove to be Clemson's most valuable defender by the time the 2009 season reaches its conclusion.
#2 DE Ricky Sapp
Assuming Sapp is healthy, he could easily be No. 1 on this list, but coming off a torn ACL, he lands at No. 2. A versatile end, Sapp's future at the next level could be as an outside linebacker, and he could be used as such at times this coming season at Clemson.
The rising senior played in 10 games a year ago, recording 28 tackles, including 10 for loss and two sacks. Not bad ... but the trueissue remains his health.
When operating at 100 percent, he's one man pass-rushing menace, and that's exactly what Clemson's defense needs to improve on its overall performance from a year ago.
#1. LB Brandon Maye
Maye stepped into a difficult situation a year ago and all he did was produce game in and game out. While he was somewhat undersized and overmatched at times against the more physical teams on the early part of Clemson's 2008 schedule, by the end of the year, he was one of the most important defenders on the field and a vocal leader.
Now playing close to 240 pounds, Maye should be in the mix for All-ACC honors this season, but the key for the redshirt sophomore remains keeping his emotions under control. This past spring it wasn't uncommon to see the Alabama native blowing up on the sidelines when things didn't go his way. That can't happen in the middle of a close game against one of the tougher teams on Clemson's schedule.
Maye not be blessed with as much pure talent as other Clemson defenders like Bowers and Sapp, but he has enough to be one of the most productive and important players on defense this year. If Sapp comes back 100 percent, he very well could have a Gaines Adams-type of season and assume the top ranking, or if Bowers progresses in the way many think, he could take over this spot, but for now, Maye comes in No. 1 on our list.