NASHVILLE – Heading into the NFL Draft – and the 2020 season for that matter – the Titans have questions at cornerback.
The team is currently thin at the position, with a new secondary coach (Anthony Midget) and at least one key performer from a year ago (Logan Ryan) still on the market in free agency.
But there's one player who is ready to answer any questions about his availability, and mindset.
"Oh, I'll be ready to go," cornerback Malcolm Butler said earlier this month. "Being out half of the season last year, it made me appreciate everything even more. It made me hungry. When you get football taken away from you, you appreciate it more. I'll be ready to help the team, most definitely."
Butler, signed in 2018 by the Titans after playing his first four seasons with the Patriots, broke his wrist in the team's November 3 game at Carolina in Week 9 and didn't play the rest of the year. He was placed on Injured Reserve on November 5 and spent the rest of the season rehabbing the injury -- and watching his teammates.
Butler traveled with the team for playoff contests, and the team's eventual trip to the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City, after wins at New England and Baltimore, inspired him even more.
"It was exciting," he said. "I felt good about the team, my teammates. It was bittersweet, but as long as the team was winning I was doing fine. I was there to support them, that's just who I am. It was frustrating that I couldn't play, but I was so proud of my team and my teammates for going on an incredible run."
Butler ended up playing in nine games in 2019, and he finished the season with 30 tackles, two interceptions and 10 passes defensed. It followed a year when he posted 56 stops and three interceptions in 2018, along with 13 passes defensed.
Earlier this offseason, the Titans said goodbye to secondary coach Kerry Coombs, who left to take over as defensive coordinator at Ohio State. Midget, formerly with the Texans, was hired by coach Mike Vrabel to replace him.
In addition to Butler, Adoree' Jackson is set to return, along with cornerbacks Chris Milton, Kenneth Durden and Kareem Orr. Meanwhile, Ryan remains unsigned, and reserve LeShaun Sims agreed to terms with the Bengals. Two more cornerbacks who played a year ago – Tramaine Brock and Tye Smith – also remain unsigned.
The Titans are expected to address the cornerback position in the draft.
Butler, who earlier this month announced plans to help those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in Nashville as well as his hometown of Vicksburg, Miss., by making a donation to Meharry Medical College to purchase supplies for healthcare workers and first responders as well as helping feed seniors who are unable to leave their homes, said he'll be ready when the team is finally able to report to Saint Thomas Sports Park for work.
Because of the pandemic, however, NFL teams will begin with virtual offseason programs. The Titans were initially scheduled to report for the offseason program on April 20.
"I am excited for the future," Butler said. "I have been working out, getting ready. You just have to prepare yourself for anything. You have to prepare yourself in a time of peace. Usually around this time I start working out real hard so I'll be ready for OTAs so I'll be in good shape. So I have been doing what I regularly do. I just want to stay focused and stay in shape so no matter when we go back I'll be ready to go and that is what a pro is supposed to do.
"And when the time comes, I'll be ready. And as a team, I hope we can keep that same energy we finished with last season and I can come in and add to it. It will be a big year for us, a big year for me. And anything to help the team win, I'm down for it."
Titans Online looks back at cornerback Malcolm Butler's 2019 season. (Photos: Donald Page)