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Malcolm Butler's short preseason debut sign of place on CB depth chart

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- What a difference a year makes for New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler.

In the 2014 preseason opener, he started and played a team-high 65 defensive snaps as an undrafted rookie the coaching staff wanted to examine closely.

In the 2015 preseason opener, he started and played the first series before getting the star veteran treatment and the rest of the night off after just 15 snaps along with other top players such as Devin McCourty, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.

This is big-time stuff for the West Alabama alum who not only wasn't drafted but had to earn his free-agent contract via a tryout, unlike most others.

Butler's quick rise and exemplary play has been one of the top stories of this Patriots training camp, as he's used his Super Bowl interception as a catalyst to position himself as the team's No. 1 cornerback.

On Saturday, I caught up with him after practice and asked him about how his standing on the team affected how much he played.

"It felt good. If I had to play the whole game, I would, but that's kind of letting me know that my teammates and coaches are depending on me and they can trust in me. They believe in me," he said. "It's a good feeling to have, to be able to sit back and relax on the sideline, but at the same time, I'm getting mental reps in with what's going on and still being involved in the game at the same time."

I then asked Butler what areas he's focused on entering his second season that he most wanted to improve.

"Being a pro," he said. "I don't really think talent is the issue. I think being a pro -- coming early, leaving late, doing extra, studying my receivers; it's the little things and they can add up and hurt you at the end [if you don't do them]. There is always room for improvement."