Butler came of age under Coach Joe Wickline in the past two seasons. At 6-7, 309, he is Florida's most mobile offensive lineman and versatile enough to play both guard and tackle, although he will remain at the left offensive guard position for now. The experience he's picked up the previous two seasons has prepared him well for an offense that he says isn't all that dissimilar to the one the Gators ran the past two seasons.
"It's similar to what we've run before but once you're familiar enough with what you're doing that you don't have to think about it anymore and it's just second nature to you every time, it's going to be really special," said the Lexington, North Carolina native. "We have to be able to take the thinking part out of it and that only happens with reps. We're pretty dedicated as a group and we want to get it down perfectly."
Butler's speed and athletic ability is typical for a front five that includes returning starters Mike Degory (center) and Randy Hand (right tackle). Offensive line Coach John Hevesy likes the fact that he's got mobile linemen for more than one reason.
"It's important to get your guys downfield in this offense," said Hevesy, "but first off, you have to be athletic enough to stay on your feet. You can't make plays if you're on the ground. I want mobility and guys who aren't on the ground."
Wednesday, Skyler Thornton broke an 80-yard run for a touchdown during a scrimmaging session. One of the highlights of the run for Hevesy was seeing all five of his offensive linemen chasing down the field, and in the case of Degory and Butler, seeing them just a few strides behind, still looking for someone to hit.
Butler, Hand, Medder, Watkins, Trautwein, Pokorny.
"That's where it's at, 80-yard runs," said Hevesy. "It starts with inside running plays because if we're moving people so we can run the ball inside, the outside plays will come and we'll be explosive."
The concept of the offensive line for Meyer is to have mobile tackles who can run to go with what he calls "road graders" in the middle.
"The tackle position is a mobile position," he said. "If you're recruiting you want a tall angular body that can run and pass pro(tect) and block off the edge, which you don't have to be 340 pounds. Inside you have to be a road grader. We're a zone blocking team. Our right guard at Utah was 340 pounds and I'll take that every time. Jim Tartt kind of has the body we're looking for at guard."
Butler was a familiar sight for Gator fans last year when he used his speed to get out in front on sweeps and screen passes. It wasn't unusual to see him 25 or more yards downfield engaging a defensive back or linebacker to keep a play moving. In this offense, he'll still be needed to engage linebackers and safeties.
"A lot of these plays you have to pull around and get out there quick to get to the linebackers and safeties," he said. "I think we're a really athletic group, so I don't think that's going to be a problem to get that done."
For now, the task at hand is to continue absorbing all the new material that's thrown at the players every day. Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen calls this a concept offense. He says that each day they throw plenty of new material at the players and once they've gotten it all there will be a refining process when material is matched to the personnel.
"There's a lot of new stuff," said Butler. "It's hard right now because we're still learning the offense and we get new stuff thrown at us every day, but I think we're picking it up quick. Still, it's going to take time. We've got two more weeks and then all of us are going to work hard in the summer to get ready for practice in August so we can have this down the way we know it has to be."
Butler likes the way that Hevesy teaches the offense. '
"He wants us to be the best offensive line in the conference and in the country and that's what we're striving to be," Butler said. "He's really a good coach and he's very patient teaching things to us. We all like him a lot, especially the way he's taking the time to teach us good things that help us improve a lot."
Butler and his offensive line mates have made the transition from Coach Ron Zook to Coach Urban Meyer smoothly. Butler says that all of the linemen are impressed with the focus and goals that Meyer has set for the team but also with the self-confidence the new coach exudes.
"I'm really impressed with Coach Meyer," he said. "He has a lot of confidence in himself and he should when you look at what he's accomplished. With the kind of experience and ability he has with the kind of players we have, we could be great. You put a guy like that steering our ship and it's scary to think about how good our team might be."
Butler says that Meyer is demanding of the players off the field, too, and that there is a reason and a purpose for demanding off the field excellence.
"He expects us to handle things on and off the field," said Butler. "Guys can't be running around all hours and all night and still handle what he's giving us on the field. He really doesn't ask anything that's too tough. You go to class, don't do things you're not supposed to, don't be places you know you shouldn't be, do your school work, and if you can put those things in order, then you should be able to give 100% when it comes time for football. When you're not playing football, you have to have things in order so when you are playing football you can concentrate on that without distractions. You have to be able to do that if we as a team are to reach our potential."