By John Perrotto
Crezdon Butler took a calculated gamble during his college career at Clemson and it backfired.
Butler decided not to leave school after his junior season, even though the cornerback was generally projected to be a mid-to-late first round draft pick. Butler went back to Clemson and earned his sociology degree but saw his draft stock fall dramatically as opponents only threw his way 14 times all season. Thus, he slid to the Steelers in the fifth round.
Butler showed his first-round talent in Saturday night’s 34-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in a preseason game at Heinz Field. Butler registered a game-high nine tackles and returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to help the Steelers raise their record to 2-1.
The performance seemingly would end any doubt about Butler making the season-opening roster as one of the top sixth or seventh corners along with starters Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor, backups Keenan Lewis and William Gay and third round pick Curtis Brown.
Donovan Warren and fourth round pick Cortez Allen are also in the mix for one of the final cornerback spots. The Steelers in 2010 carried six cornerbacks and four safeties to open the season.
Butler’s chances of making the team would improve if McFaddden, who has yet to play because of a hamstring injury, is cut.
“We all know decisions are coming,” said Butler, who also defensed two passes. “I feel I did my job tonight. I have some things to improve on and we’ll see what happens but I feel I played pretty well.”
Butler sat out the previous preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles with a leg injury. He made up for last time Saturday, getting extensive playing time as cornerbacks Taylor (broken thumb) and McFadden missed the game while a third corner, Keenan Lewis (knee), was injured in the first half.
“I was out there for a while,” Butler said. “I had to get my conditioning back but I felt pretty good. I feel I played a whole lot better than I did in the first game.”
Butler often looked lost in the Steelers’ loss to the Redskins in Washington in the pre-season opener on Aug. 12. He managed just two tackles in that game.
Of course, some of Butler’s poor performance could have been attributed to rust. He appeared in just four games as a rookie last year, recording only one tackle.
“I felt I did my best job yet of reading my keys, knowing what plays they should run and what my assignments were in this game,” Butler said. “I trusted my eyes a lot more. My eyes were messing me up down in Washington. I wasn’t seeing the keys. I wasn’t seeing the plays developing. This time, I was doing a better job of reading my keys and carrying out my responsibilities.”
While doing a workmanlike job with his nine tackles, Butler also made the type of splash play that is likely to get noticed when the coaches break down the video of the game. Butler picked off a pass by backup quarterback Chris Redman on the first play of the fourth quarter and raced down the left sideline for a score that put the Steelers comfortably ahead 31-16.
“He took a five-step drop and the D-line got great pressure on him,” Butler said. “I had no idea I was going 95 yards with it, though. I just started running, and kept running until I got to the end zone.”
And Butler likely ran his way onto the team, too.