Cornerback gets Vikings interest

As the Vikings look for depth at cornerback and an eventual replacement for Antoine Winfield, they have given one cornerback some good vibes about their feelings on him. See what the athletic defender had to say about his skills and a well-known star that is mentoring him.

The Vikings are one of five teams that have shown the most interest in University of Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler, according to what the athletically gifted defender told Doug Farrar of on the network. The fact that Butler was being mentored by one of the top cover cornerbacks – and flashiest characters – in recent NFL history should come as a plus to fans looking for some personality in their defenders.

Butler has spent a good part of his offseason with Deion – as in Sanders.

"I got to know him during the season and I decided to go out there and train with him up until the Combine," Butler told Viking Update. "He just got in touch with one of my coaches (at UConn) and the coach passed the message on and we've been keeping in contact ever since."

Butler had much the same reaction we did when "Deion's" name was brought up for the first time: "That Deion?"

"It was great. My coach came up to me like, ‘Yeah, Deion called for you,'" Butler explained.

"I'm like, ‘Deion who?'"

Coach: "Sanders."

Butler: "Deion Sanders? Why didn't you tell me that? Let me call him back."

"It was crazy getting to know him, but he's a real cool guy."

Since that initial contact initiated by Sanders, Butler has been working out with "Neon Deion" in Carrollton, Tex., outside of Dallas. The past few months have been spent preparing for the Senior Bowl in January and the NFL Scouting Combine in February. He recently said he'd probably continue working with Sanders until later this month.

That has left Butler well-prepared for what to expect at the Senior Bowl, he said. And he has also appreciated what he perceives as honesty from the NFL coaches and scouts he talked to in Mobile, Ala.

"They're straightforward. They pretty much give it to you straight. They want to challenge you every day," he said. "In the game, there is a lot of things that we can't do – we can't really press in the game and things like that. A lot of the coverages are off, but they still want us challenging every route."

Although Vikings scouts were spotted attending at least one of his games in the 2008 season, he said he was protected from NFL exposure too early.

"Our coaches kind of kept that away from us. A lot of guys have come up to me and said they came to a couple of games," he said.

Now, however, it's all about NFL exposure, when coaches and scouts want to see his speed up close and personal and get to know him with interviews. The Vikings already talked to him as part of their mass interviews at the Senior Bowl.

It's unknown what their impressions of him were, as they don't get into specifics about draft prospects, but Butler says he can play both in man defensive schemes that rely on his coverage skills and zone defenses that will call on him to be more involved in run support.

"Every corner wants to be man-to-man and be locked up, but I can do both. I can do the zone thing too," he said, contending that he out-jumped Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson on a fade route when they met in college and hasn't faced many fades since then.

The confident Butler believes his coverage skills will translate well in the NFL.

"I think it will translate pretty well. In the NFL, you can't really touch a guy. It's not like college. So my hips, my feet and just opening up and running with guys will help me," he said. "You gotta work at your technique. And I'm working with one of the best who's ever done it in Deion Sanders. He's taught me a lot. A lot I learned in college."

It was there that Butler also developed his receiving skills, getting about 10 to 15 plays per game on offense and has contributed some in the return game.

According to Chris Steuber of, Butler has good hands, instincts and toughness, but he could use some improvement in his tackling skills. And his ability to return kickoffs and punts could also be considered a valuable asset for a team that will undoubtedly increase the value of a player that can add those qualities.

"Butler is a tremendously versatile player who's a quality defender and return specialist. He has good ball skills and is extremely instinctive in the secondary. He's physical and fluid in coverage and positions himself well to break up the throw," wrote Steuber, who projects Butler to be a second-round pick. "He has great vision and is elusive with the ball in his hands. He has good size but struggles against taller, physical receivers. He has to improve his initial quickness and not allow the opposition to gain positioning on routes."

When asked to assess his own skills, Butler indicated he's a solid all-around playmaker.

"Athleticism, closing on the ball and making plays on the ball – speed. There are just a lot of things I think I can do well," he said, calling his athleticism "freakish."

Now it remains to be seen if he can live up to the legend of Deion.

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