When the Dallas Cowboys signed Mario Butler as a rookie free agent in 2011, it wasn't the typical headline-grabbing move fans get excited about. Butler battled hard in practice and developed his game enough to make it to the final roster cuts, and he eventually landed on the practice squad.
Butler is a 6'1", 188-pound cornerback who is also displaying his ability to work at the safety position. Not only is he aligned to win the fifth cornerback spot, but he can also provide depth at a position currently dealing with the departure of Brodney Pool, Matt Johnson's working his way back onto the field and little depth.
In his preseason debut, against the Oakland Raiders, Butler looked comfortable in his pedal, showed quickness to the ball and was sound in his technique. He saw a lot of playing time, which also works to his advantage in the battle for limited roster spots within the secondary.
But ultimately, it might be his versatility and willingness to play both corner and safety that land him a home on the 53-man roster.
Rob Ryan's scheme is complex in nature; it utilizes the entire defensive roster and is not for the learning impaired. Ultimately, players that will allow Ryan to stretch the boundaries of his playbook will be able to get on the field.
If Butler is able to be successful and effective at multiple positions while picking up the schemes, then his fate should be sealed.
Right now he is in a battle with Akwasi Awusu-Ansah, C.J. Wilson, Lionel Smith and Teddy Williams at cornerback. Eddie Whitley, Mana Silva and Justin Taplin-Ross are his competition at safety.
Is Butler good enough to beat out the majority of these players?
He could be, but I like having two for the price of one better. And for Butler that means the pendulum swings to his advantage.
For Butler it's not just about being a fifth corner; it's about Jason Garrett's next-player-up philosophy.
So, in essence, Butler has to be ready to replace Orlando Scandrick or Mike Jenkins on any given play. If Butler is called upon to play safety, then he faces potential matchups against some of the league's best tight ends, and he has to be able to make the important reads from center field to support the cornerbacks and the run defense.
It's a tall order for Butler to go from undrafted free agent, to the practice squad, to the 53-man roster.
But if he wants to make this team, his versatility may ultimately be the determining factor. It might also be his only advantage.
If he makes the team and his number is called, hopefully he can give the defense an advantage, as well.