Emmanuel Butler did this to himself.
For a handful of days in training camp for the New Orleans Saints – the first handful, when fresh storylines are sought and new players making standout plays can get romanticized to the point of mythical – the undrafted rookie receiver caught every pass within reach, several of them in spectacular fashion.
That’s where the interest blossomed, to a barely controllable volume. Thus, there was an understandably high level of disappointment when Butler got injured, then missed practices, then missed the preseason opener against Minnesota in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday night.
Now, he’s back. And while the height of the anticipation may have dipped just a bit, there still remains a significant level of interest in seeing if Butler can transition his practice field production – and he didn’t look like he’d missed a beat during Sunday’s practice at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center – to a preseason game.
“It was a little difficult just because I was so anxious to get out there,” Butler said. “I love the game of football, I love playing. That’s really the only difficult thing about it, just not being able to go out there and try to help my team win.
“I felt like it was a great experience, though: My first time being on the sidelines for an NFL game, in the Superdome. The fans were amazing. I felt like it was a great experience and I learned a lot even though I didn’t get to step on the field.”
What we’ve learned about Butler is, first, he’s a huge (6 feet 4, 220 pounds) target and, two, he can catch the ball.
In traffic. Wide open. Defender draped around him. Defender boxed out. Leaping. Sprinting.
Whatever the circumstance, Butler has displayed the ability to catch the ball within it. Perhaps better, he didn’t catch the fever that surrounded his first week of practice, which kept him grounded and allowed him to benefit as much as possible from the injury.
“It definitely helped me mature a little more,” he said. “I’m somebody that believes that everything happens for a reason. I believe that God takes and puts you through certain situations because He’s trying to teach you something, He wants to bring you through something, He wants you to learn something.
“It was a very short time, but throughout that entire time that I was out, I was able to focus, I was able to get stronger in my faith and get closer to God. I feel that now that I’m back, I’m even more mature than I was before I left.
“There was a lot of different things going through my mind. I’m a rookie player and having to deal with some of the stuff that I was dealing with, it was a little bit tough. But I tried to just stay strong in my faith, stay focused, make sure that I could get in the playbook as much as I can because I had a lot of time not practicing. Tried to make sure that I could get in my playbook, stay in my playbook so that when I got back out here, I was ready to go.”
On Sunday, Butler looked ready. Few would argue that he didn’t.
“I felt really good,” he said. “God is amazing. To be out here, to be back to 100 (percent), to feel healthy, to feel like I am and to be able to go out here and compete with my teammates and my family, it’s amazing. God is amazing.”