ALLEN PARK - Early on, it looked like a mistake. Starting a second-year tackle with no playing experience in place of a four-year veteran starter. But Kelly Butler, a Grand Rapids, MI native who was a standout protecting current San Diego Chargers starter Drew Brees at Purdue, has shown that both Matt Millen and Steve Mariucci's faith in his ability to rise to the challenge of being a full time starter in his second year, was warranted.
Butler has blossomed over the last three games and made serious progress after a slow start. The 6-foot-7, 320 pounder is a breed of a different kind, a free spirit. Soft spoken but a force on the field. Lions guard Damien Woody said there's no limit to how good Butler can be.
We caught up with Butler in the locker room this week prior to his daily catnap and got him talking about a variety of subjects including his impending matchup with the Panthers standout defensive end Julius Peppers and how he prepares for facing a player of his unique talents.
Scout.com: How is it that you've improved so rapidly over your performance early on?
BUTLER: "I'm just trying to get better every week. [I'm] just working hard with (offensive line coach) Pat [Morris] giving me a lot of help off the field and Dominic [Raiola], Damien [Woody] and all the guys, just working hard and being very competitive and trying to get better every week.
Scout.com: How has Damien Woody helped you?
BUTLER: "He's just like an older brother, I say that all the time. It's just as far as different looks and if I'm not sure through practice he'll help me and through the games. He's one of the best interior linemen in the NFL. If I make a mistake he's still there to help me, he's helped me in the passing game and identifying fronts and we communicate. Then Dom identifies the blitzes, so we're just trying to come together and be able to communicate and stay on the same page.
Scout.com: The team has had some success lately running right at physical defenses, what do you attribute that to?
BUTLER: "We're just trying to take on the mentality of going out there and play hard-nosed football. Just go out there and put 'hat on hat' and see who wins that battle and keep coming. That's the mentality that Pat has instilled in us. That's the mentality Mooch and Millen has instilled in us. That's the kind of indentity as offensive linemen we want to have to go out there and be a physical offensive line. That's what we look forward to.
Scout.com: Will the individual matchup between you and Julius Peppers be the toughest one you face this season?
BUTLER: Yeah, this will be a big matchup. Julius Peppers is a great player. He's a tremendous athlete and has a lot of attributes to him. I'm excited for this chance, I'm excited. I watched him [on film] he's slippery, he's hard to get your hands on [him], he's quick, he's 6-foot-7, about 280 - [pounds]. He can play basketball. He's a great athlete. It's a great challenge to see where I stand against one of the best in the NFL.
Scout.com: What do you need to do to be successful?
BUTLER: "Just go out there and try to get your hands on [him] fast, just try to keep your feet moving and try to identify what's going on with the front and just don't let him play in open space. Just try to get your hands on a guy like that."
Scout.com: When a player has a super quick first step, how do you defend that?
BUTLER: Just try to run them up field if you can and use their speed against them. If he's quick off the ball you try to widen the pocket or run them up field or just get your hands on them depending on what the progression of how many steps of the quarterback; is it a three-step, a five-step or a seven-step [drop back]."
Scout.com: How has working against Kalimba Edwards helped similate that kind of rush?
BUTLER: Kalimba Edwards, he's one of the best. He can run with the DBs, he's quick off the ball at the same time when you overset up he has that ability to come back underneath you and then he has great strength with leverage so he can put his hands on you quick to make you determine what you've got to do. Working with a guy like Kalimba prepares you for a speed guy, if you're going against a physical guy, Cory Redding in the same way. We have one of the best defensive lines, I feel, in the NFL and you have the ability to practice against those guys for five or six days and then when you go into the game, it makes you easier for you to compete against those guys because you've had that look all week - fifty plays one day, sixty plays that day. So you have a lot of looks and you can get yourself prepared."
Scout.com: With the passing game struggling, do you feel you really need to get the run game off?
BUTLER: "I have no control over that. I just try to go out there as an offensive lineman to just go out there and block as long as I can, make the proper reads and everything is going to come along. We're going in the right direction, trying to get better every week. That's all I can control - myself. As an offensive line, we're trying to become a better team and we're coming together slowly but surely. We're making the right steps in the right direction."
Exclusive: Butler Preparing For Peppers
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