Butler's back -- and even more fired up

METAIRIE, La. -- It was one year ago at this time that we were first introduced to the New Orleans Saints' animated new outside linebacker, Victor Butler, a pass-rush specialist who followed defensive coordinator Rob Ryan from the Dallas Cowboys in free agency.

Butler was more fired up than anyone on the Saints' roster to kick off organized team activities (OTAs) last year. He raved about the defense's potential and even drew chuckles from the media as he proclaimed, "I wouldn't be surprised if we were the No. 1 defense in all categories next year."

We shouldn't have laughed. The Saints went from the NFL's 32nd-ranked defense in 2012 to the No. 4-ranked defense last year in both yards allowed and points allowed.

However, they did it without Butler, who suffered a torn ACL during the final week of OTAs last summer.

So you can imagine how amped Butler is now that he's back on the field again.

"It's tremendous," Butler said Thursday. "First of all I'm just happy to be out there with a helmet playing football again. Missing a whole year was heartbreaking. It's like an alcoholic not being able to drink. A fish out of water. I was feeling horrible.

"But the great thing is you get to watch great guys out there make a playoff run, and now coming back you get to be a part of that."

Butler joked that he was doing anything he could to simulate football back home before the Saints' offseason conditioning program kicked off last month.

"I've been doing OTAs personally," Butler said. "I have a brother that I've been working out with. He's 360 pounds, so there wasn't much coverage, but I've been doing OTAs since I've been able to run again."

And when asked about his bold prediction that came true last offseason, Butler said, "Last year wasn't even really a prediction. It was just you get in here and you look at these guys, just like when you go outside and you know the sky is blue.

"When you get in this locker room and you look at these guys, I knew they were going to be a top-10 defense, period. You just know," Butler continued. "This year is the same thing."

Butler was working with the second-string defense on Thursday during the practice that was open to the media.

It will probably take him a little while to get back in the groove. But eventually, he should have a good opportunity to play a prominent role this season as a second edge rusher to complement outside linebacker Junior Galette.

It's probably not accurate to say that Butler is competing with veteran Parys Haralson for a starting job since they'll likely rotate based on situations. Butler is more of a pass-rush specialist, while Haralson is more of an asset in run packages.

"It's great to get him back out there. He looks healthy; I can't wait," Ryan said. "Right now, our tempo is that we're working on our scheme, our communication on our scheme, and how we operate. This isn't a full-contact camp. So that's when I think Victor will really show up where he's off his injury and things."

Last year, I figured Butler would be the Saints' top pass-rusher after he had shown glimpses of his athletic potential as a backup with the Cowboys for four years behind studs DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.

But now Butler will have to prove he belongs on the field. Last year, the Saints essentially played a 4-2 front for most of the season, and it worked great with Galette (12 sacks) and defensive end Cameron Jordan (12.5 sacks) both having breakout seasons.

Both of those guys should be full-time players. So Butler will need to prove to Ryan that he needs to either switch back to more of a regular 3-4 alignment or find creative ways to rotate Butler into the mix.

Butler, who turns 27 in July, will also have to fend off younger athletes like Rufus Johnson, Khairi Fortt, Ronald Powell and Kyle Knox for playing time.

"My role is to get out there and make this defense, which was to me the No. 1 defense in the league, even better," Butler said. "Whether that's coming off the bench or coming out the tunnel first, you feel like you get out there in OTAS and minicamps and training camp and let your play do the talking for you. You go out there and make plays, make mistakes and you earn the trust and confidence of your teammates. And the rest of it just starts to follow."