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Savvy Butler key cog in U of M's game plan
By Phil Stukenborg
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September 17, 2004

As one who has come to know, appreciate, understand and promote his offensive lineman, University of Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams is the logical choice when it comes to assessing their abilities.

Ask Williams his thoughts about sophomore Blake Butler, who has played guard and tackle in his brief career -- in addition to emergency duty at center in fall camp -- and Williams is, at first, reluctant. He seems more intent on discussing Butler's camera presence.

As is his custom, Williams emerges from the Tiger locker room after games and brings several linemen with him to meet with the media. Butler got the call after last weekend's 52-21 victory over 1-AA Chattanooga and Williams couldn't believe what he was hearing.

Butler was composed and comfortable. He was thoughtful and funny.

''He beat out (center) Gene (Frederic) as far as (handling) the interviews,'' Williams said.

But while Butler has a knack for dealing with the media, he's even more at ease on the field playing any position offensive line coach Rick Mallory needs him to play.

Butler, who started three games at guard as a freshman, opened the season at left tackle in the Tigers' 20-13 win at Ole Miss. When he was needed at left guard against UTC, Butler easily made the transition.

He'll start again at left guard when the 25th-ranked Tigers (2-0) play at Arkansas State (0-2) Saturday at 6 p.m.

''It's not that big a deal,'' said Butler of the move. ''It's almost like being back at home because that's where I played all of last year. It's more of a mental move than a physical one.

''Physically, it's not that big of a challenge. Mentally, there's different assignments, different calls, but at the same time when I was playing tackle I knew what the guard was doing next to me so it wasn't that big of an adjustment.''

The move was precipitated by Kenyun Glover's tenure as a starting guard lasting one game. When Glover was demoted, Butler (6-3, 296) moved over and reserve left tackle Jason Johnson was promoted to a starter.

Butler moved into an expanded role late last season after guard Andrew Handy was injured in a 37-7 win at Louisville. With Handy sidelined, Butler started against Cincinnati and South Florida and in the New Orleans Bowl.

Last spring, Butler, who was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team, received the Chris Faros Most Improved Player Award. In fall camp, he worked out briefly at center when Frederic was sidelined.

''He's a ball(player),'' Mallory said. ''It all makes sense to him and he understands defenses. He gets into the game and he pays attention. He watches (opponent) game videos.

''Some guys, you move 'em one spot or to the opposite side and they can't cope because they don't understand. Blake understands.''

Butler said the move to left guard has been a smooth transition on several fronts. For one, he's familiar with the position.

''It was nice being back at guard,'' he said. ''I enjoy playing inside. I'm built more to play inside than to play at tackle. Most tackles are about 6-5. I feel more comfortable at guard.''

Butler also is familiar with those around him -- Johnson to his left and Frederic to his right.

''From playing tackle all spring and (fall camp), I know what (Johnson's) reaction is going to be,'' Butler said. ''I know what he's thinking. If he makes a mistake, I know what it (likely will) be.

''At the same time, I've been playing with these guys. We know each other's weaknesses.''

Butler grew up in Memphis and attended high school in Cleveland when father Keith, a former Memphis and Arkansas State assistant, accepted a job with the NFL's Browns. Keith, a standout linebacker with the Tigers in the 1970s and a former NFL player, is currently an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Tiger quarterback Danny Wimprine calls Butler ''a savvy football player who knows the game.''

Butler said he was told before the season began that he might play a utility role, filling in as needed anywhere on the line.

''I like to know what everybody's doing,'' Butler said. ''I like to be prepared at any time. It makes you more valuable to the team the more you can do.

''This summer I didn't see myself going back to guard at any point this year. Now I'm back in the second game this year. You just never know what's going to happen or what surprises there'll be.''