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Quiet Butler loud where it counts for Giants

BY ARTHUR STAPLE |

 

August 10, 2007

ALBANY - James Butler came out of nowhere - actually, a tiny Georgia town called Climax and Georgia Tech - to grab a roster spot with the Giants in 2005 after going undrafted. He was supposed to learn the safety position and be a contributor on special teams.

 

That rookie season, Butler did a little bit of both. He had two interceptions and started a game as the third safety in dime packages.

 

Last season, Butler was supposed to play more defense, even with Will Demps being brought in via free agency. But a congenital kidney ailment cut Butler's training camp short and he was barely heard from outside of special teams after dropping a sure interception in the end zone against the Colts on the opening drive of the regular season.

 

 

But the 6-3, 215-pound Butler is back on the upswing, having already earned the starting spot at strong safety. Gibril Wilson moved from strong to free safety in the offseason and Demps, third on the team with 116 tackles last year, is Wilson's backup.

 

 

 

"I really don't try to look back at all that's happened, I just want to learn from it," said Butler, who might be the quietest Giant off the field. On it, he has to be loud to shout out the alignments he sees as one of the last lines of defense.

 

"I guess my personality is to be on the quiet side, but you have to be assertive on the field," he said. "That's what I do."

 

He's impressed Tom Coughlin and his teammates with his ability to recognize schemes. "He's just a real smart guy," Wilson said. "He knows his stuff."

 

Demps, who came in last year after signing a five-year, $15-million deal following four seasons as a Raven, never sought out Coughlin or any other coach for an explanation as to why he started camp as a second-teamer. He was coming off an ACL reconstruction but still played every game, and said he feels healthier now than he did all last season.

 

"You'd love to have an answer from someone, but I'm not the type of guy to go ask, 'I'm not starting, what's wrong?' " Demps said. "You've got to move on. Whoever's in there, you give them all the support you can."

 

Safety is a tough spot in training camp. Hitting, especially the big hits safeties love to deliver, is forbidden; coverage drills usually involve a tight end making 19 moves on a safety until he gets open. Demps found out the hard way last camp about playing cautiously when he knocked Jeremy Shockey cold with an unintentional forearm to the head while both were going for the ball.

 

"Coughlin got on me about that," he said.

 

Speed and reacting quickly to the ball and ballcarriers was lacking from the safety spot last season. Wilson's mantra for this season, as it was when he had an eye-opening rookie year in 2004, is simple: "See ball, go get ball."

 

In Steve Spagnuolo's defense, that's the mission for the entire unit. Tomorrow night against the Panthers, Wilson and Butler (with Demps to follow) will get to start hitting real, live opponents and try to change the perception of the Giants' safeties as too passive.

 

"We're not playing against friends anymore," Butler said.

 

Panthers at Giants

 

8 p.m.

 

TV: Ch. 4

 

Radio: WXRK (92.3)

 

:rock: Also, I can't wait to see J-Load Un-load :flex:

 

Just how "Vanilla" do you think we will be?

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FIELD & SCHEME

 

TEST WILL GAUGE IF GIANTS HAVE SOUND SYSTEM

 

By PAUL SCHWARTZ

 

August 11, 2007 -- The first glimpse of what the new-look Giants defense is supposed to resemble comes tonight in the preseason opener against the Panthers, for a brief time, that is.

 

Starters will go two or three series at Giants Stadium, likely exiting before the end of the first quarter. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins (calf) will not play and holdout Michael Strahan remains out of the picture.

 

Still, this is the debut, of sorts, of the unit first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo now commands and excitement is rampant among the players in the new system.

 

"It's going to put our rules and what we've learned so far in this defense to test," linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "There's going to be mistakes from a mental standpoint, but if we go out there and fly around and be physical, that's what we're looking for. There's a different attitude, a different temperament by our defensive coordinator and guys are loving playing for him right now."

 

A former Eagles assistant, Spagnuolo has never called the defensive shots as a coordinator. He realizes and embraces the increased responsibility.

 

"What will be exciting and new will be the actual game day, making the calls," Spagnuolo said. "That will probably be the biggest difference and the most exciting thing. You're a part of the game now. As an assistant coach, I always felt like by the time Saturday came I pretty much had done my job. I got a couple of little things I got to do on game day, but the bulk of my work was from Monday through Saturday."

 

During the real season, Sundays will be the days of decision for Spagnuolo, who is extremely short in stature and makes his presence felt not by yelling but with constant commentary, most of it positive in nature. The defense is decidedly more aggressive (in theory) from the Tim Lewis scheme of the past few years and, predictably, more popular with the participants.

 

Lewis, coincidentally, will be in the building tonight, as he's Carolina's defensive backs coach.

 

"I think the biggest thing that Steve's tried to emphasize for these guys is really have a downhill, attacking mentality," said linebackers coach Bill Sheridan, a holdover from Lewis' regime. "I know it might sound very trite, but he really just pounds 'em every day when we watch the practice film."

 

This is a more finely-tuned chance to see how Mathias Kiwanuka is progressing at strong side linebacker after moving from defensive end. Free agent pickup Kawika Mitchell makes his debut at weak side linebacker, and James Butler, vaulted over last year's starter, Will Demps, looks to cement his job with the first unit at strong safety.

 

Pierce knows the performance won't be perfect and is anxious to see Spagnuolo in action. Lewis spent the game calling the defense up in the press box. Spagnuolo is expected to be down on the sideline.

 

"I'll be interested in seeing how he responds, how he's going to make the calls and adjustments, his whole demeanor, because everybody picks it up a notch, not just the players but the coaches," Pierce said. "He's different from the meeting rooms to the practice field and now here comes game day. I think what's been good is everybody's been feeding off the defensive coordinator, so it's going to be interesting to see."

 

As far as Spagnuolo working the game from the bench, that's the way Pierce wants it.

 

"Most D coordinators I played with are on the field," he said. "Sometimes when you're the d-coordinator you're relaying messages to the assistants, so it's like you're getting third party. They try to say it the best they can like him, there ain't nothing like getting it from the horse's mouth. The vibe, his energy, his emotions, it carries onto the players."

 

How ironic.. Tim lewis is now the Panthers defensive backs coach. look for Our Qb's to light up the Carolina secondary. I like AP's comments about the DC.

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