Butler still working on his fastball

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints linebacker Victor Butler is excited to be back out on the practice field this summer after missing all of last season with a torn ACL.

But he's also fighting through the rust -- and a little frustration -- that comes with being gone so long.

"I'm all right. It's fun to be back out there, no doubt. But it will take a little while to get back in the swing of things," Butler said last week. "Slowly but surely, I'm coming back. There's just a way everybody's used to doing certain things. You're still doing everything, it's just not what you're used to.

"It's like throwing your fastball, but instead of your 102 mile-per-hour fastball, it's your 95 mile-per-hour fastball. It's still fast, but not quite what you're used to."

Luckily Butler still has plenty of time to add those extra miles per hour. The only good thing about tearing his ACL so early last year (June 11 during organized team activities) is that he's had ample time to recover.

For now, Butler has been working primarily with the second-string defense as the Saints install their playbook with no live contact in practices.

Both Butler and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said they're especially looking forward to training camp and the preseason -- when both Butler's health and the action will ramp up even more.

"Victor is doing well. Victor is smart. We take care of each other out here on offense and defense, so you will see more -- obviously in training camp, when we're competing with pads and things, we will see him rush the passer more," said Ryan, who previously coached Butler with the Dallas Cowboys before they both came to New Orleans last year.

"He's a damn good pass-rusher," Ryan continued. "Right now, if you're around Drew Brees, you're doing the wrong thing. You better get away from him, or I'm going to get fired. We don't want that ... at least I don't.

"Victor can really pass rush, and you'll really see that, especially in the preseason when he gets his chance. Victor is a good player, there's no question."

Butler (6-foot-2, 245 pounds) had 11 sacks in his first four seasons with Dallas as a part-time pass-rusher behind starters DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Butler, who turns 27 next month, was expected to take the next step in a bigger role with the Saints last year. But the injury prevented him from doing so.

It will be very interesting to see if Butler's return alters Ryan's defense. Last year after veteran pass-rushers Butler and Will Smith got hurt, the Saints wound up spending about 75 percent of their snaps in nickel or dime defense, with only one pass-rushing outside linebacker in the lineup (Junior Galette).

If Butler emerges as a useful weapon this year, the Saints might feature more true 3-4 alignments in their pass defense. Or they could use Butler in a variety of creative places, like when they use their "amoeba" formation with pass-rushers standing up all over the front seven.