New England Patriots relying on Malcolm Butler to be No. 1 cornerback

Malcolm Butler has gone from backup to Super Bowl hero to the Patriots' No. 1 cornerback in the span of 10 months. David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The low point last season for New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler came in late November, when he was a healthy scratch in back-to-back games against the Lions and Packers. On one day during that stretch, Butler walked through the Patriots' locker room, the discouraged look on his face hard to miss.

The high point for Butler last season ... well, we all know about that. It doesn't get any higher than that.

When it comes to fascinating storylines surrounding the 2015 New England Patriots, there aren't many higher on the list than the personable-yet-humble Butler. He doesn't have to worry about being a healthy scratch any more.

The main question this season is how he handles his role as the team's No. 1 cornerback, which he's been since the first day of training camp.

Indeed, it's been a stunning rise for the 25-year-old who played just 16 percent of the defensive snaps last season behind starters Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. It's easy to forget that Butler didn't play a single defensive snap in the AFC divisional round win over Baltimore, and wasn't called upon until the third quarter of the Super Bowl to relieve the struggling Kyle Arrington.

Yet he's a main reason why the team's latest Super Bowl banner will be unveiled in Thursday's NFL opener.

And now the team is asking for more, with Butler determined to deliver.

"I'm very excited to put that behind me, move forward, and establish that I'm not just known for that one play," he said.

So while he might allow himself a brief moment of reflection Thursday, don't expect Butler to get caught up in the moment.

"The banner and all that is great, but we're out here to play Pittsburgh and we're going to enjoy it for that moment. But at the end of the day, it's business," he said.

If the Patriots use the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Butler the same way they did Revis, he could be matched up often on top Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. That's something Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger speculated on Sunday when he called Butler "fearless."

Meanwhile, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has described Butler in a different way, saying he's been impressed how he hasn't changed as a person despite the life-altering Super Bowl interception.

"I think he, as much as any player that I've been around [over 41 years of coaching], has really not changed very much from Year 1 to Year 2," Belichick said a few weeks back on sports radio WEEI. "He's maintained his level of humility, his lifestyle, his sense of purpose. In a lot of ways, he acts like a rookie out there, like he's starting all over again."

In doing so, Belichick sees a player who has made a "huge jump" and improved considerably from when he first arrived as an undrafted rookie trying out for the team in May 2014.

Now, just 15 months later in an unprecedented rise, Butler is in line to be the Patriots' No. 1 cornerback.