Ike Taylor was healthy, yet there was No. 40 – Butler – working with the first team at right cornerback.
"Forty is rising," Horton told the Tribune-Review after the workout. "I know I'm talking about a rookie, but it looks like he's going to make our team better."
So, of course, Butler called home to his mom and stepfather in Asheville, North Carolina. His dad, a lifelong Steelers fan, was particularly stoked.
"You know, the Steelers are a hard-nosed football team and my dad grew up a hard-nosed kind of guy," said Butler. "He played nose guard in high school and college, so he had to deal with some monsters down there. He was a hard-nosed football player."
So Jonathan Crooks, former nose guard at Western Carolina, naturally became excited about his son's progress report during his first spring with the Steelers.
How did Crezdon take it?
"I was surprised," Butler said. "I was surprised even learning the playbook as fast as I did, being it's so big. I was just surprised. I think any rookie would be surprised to run with the first team as soon as I did."
Butler is a 5-11 3/4, 191-pound cornerback who started the last 40 games at Clemson. Before that he was the all-time leading rusher at Asheville High. He broke Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice's 63-year-old school rushing record as a quarterback after playing running back as a freshman and sophomore.
Like the man he's attempting to replace on the Steelers' roster – Deshea Townsend – Butler quarterbacked his prep team to a state title and was the MVP of the championship game.
"My running back, he's at the University of North Carolina right now (Johnny White), he played hurt that game, so somebody had to step up," Butler explained of the 13-10 Asheville win.
In addition to a 70-yard touchdown run, Butler played a little defense that game. The cornerback made five tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass. He then went to Clemson and the freshman found himself on the island against the guy who would be picked second overall the following April.
"We played against Georgia Tech. It was my first time getting quality snaps," Butler said. "I got in the game and the first time they threw at me was a deep ball. I kind of tipped it and it bounced off my helmet and the receiver (James Johnson) caught it for a touchdown.
"I kind of got down, went to the sidelines, talked to some guys, and they said, ‘Man, keep your head up because they're going to come at you again.' Believe it or not, Reggie Ball threw it again and I ended up with my first interception. And it was against Georgia Tech when Calvin Johnson was there, so I was on one of the best receivers in the league." Butler was part of a Clemson secondary that became the first to hold Johnson without a catch.
Butler intercepted 10 passes his first three years at Clemson, but intercepted only one last season.
"We played zone three years in college," he said. "That's when I had my most success. But my senior year in college, I was rarely thrown at, so they didn't get to really see what I could do in a man-style of defense. I just don't think people have seen enough of me in man-style coverage."
Any NFL corner must be able to play both man and zone, but the Steelers are primarily a zone team and Butler adapted well to it last spring.
"I think the style of the attack suits me," Butler sad. "My senior year in college we blitzed a lot, so that fits me. The quarterback has to get the ball out of his hands pretty fast, so we can make some plays on the ball from a DB standpoint."
That was a big problem last season for the Steelers, who didn't get an interception from a cornerback until the last game. Butler could eventually help that problem, or, judging by his spring performance, he could fire early as one of the team's rookie sleepers in 2010.
"I'm just looking to be the best I can be at my position," he said. "I'm going to work hard every day. Practice makes perfect, but a perfect practice does even more. So I just want to strive to do my best. I don't want to disappoint anybody, my family. I don't want to disappoint my baby daughter. I just want to go out there and work hard every day."