If Averill Butler is feeling any pressure, he's hiding it very well.

All Butler has to do is step into the position vacated by graduated defensive tackle Jimari Jones, the All-Extra Defensive Player of the Year, who set nearly every sack record for Thomas Stone last season and anchored a defense that led the Cougars to the Maryland 4A East final.

Butler shrugs his shoulders and answers simply: This is his job and he has to do it.

"That's where everything is won or lost," Butler said. "If you don't have a good line, they'll run all over you. It's the first line of defense."

Last year, Jones was so dominant he was the Cougars' leading tackler as a lineman, a tremendous feat. He set a school record with 13 sacks and also forced seven fumbles en route to earning a scholarship to Hampton University. When Jones wasn't bottling up ballcarriers, he was forcing them outside into the open arms of his teammates.

Thomas Stone shut out six opponents and held three others to seven points or fewer.

Now, the 6-foot-2 Butler, who has gained about 15 pounds to weigh about 205 but is still 40 pounds lighter than Jones, has to take a different tack toward that role.

"I've got to use my speed and my hands a lot because, you know, I'm one of the smaller linemen," Butler said. Jones "had a lot of instincts. I watched and learned from him."

The first thing Butler learned was to be smart. He said it is easy to get intimidated on the line by looking across at an opposing lineman who might be 50 to 70 pounds bigger than he is. Butler knows he isn't going to overpower someone that size. But that doesn't mean he can't beat them.

"You look at them and you're amazed at how big they are," Butler said. "But you can't look at just that. You have to watch his moves. Shoot to the line, bob and move. If you get off the line quickly, it'll lead to good things. Linemen are slower, and the quarterback is just there waiting. [Jones] did that, and every other play he was in the backfield."

Cougars Coach Steve Lindsay admires Butler's work ethic and thinks he can help maintain the defense's level of a year ago.

"If we can get that," Lindsay said, "I can't see why the defense can't give the type of performance we gave last year."

Averill Butler, right, and James Davis will help lead the Thomas Stone Cougars in the season after the team's trip to the Maryland 4A East final.