The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Percy Butler’s life changed in a flash. Now he’s ready to get to work.

Percy Butler is a fourth-round pick from Louisiana. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
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Late last week, most of the Washington Commanders rookies arrived at team headquarters with a backpack and a carry-on suitcase, just enough for a three-day minicamp. But Percy Butler, a fourth-round defensive back from Louisiana Lafayette, brought a backpack and three large suitcases, more than enough for six weeks. On Instagram, a few commenters joked that he was going to move into the facility.

Later, Butler grinned and shook his head. His agent and the team miscommunicated. He thought he was staying until June 23; he was actually leaving Saturday. Butler said he was thankful that he hadn’t had to pay to check the bags — and that he wouldn’t let all that packing go to waste.

“I’m going to leave one suitcase in my locker,” he said.

Butler, like first-round wide receiver Jahan Dotson, isn’t eager to leave Ashburn. He had a remarkable few days — got drafted, became a father, participated in his first pro rookie camp — but said he was focused on doing “anything that contributes to this team’s success” in pursuit of a Super Bowl.

Butler figures to be a Week 1 contributor on special teams, probably at gunner, and Coach Ron Rivera said he could also compete at safety and Buffalo nickel, the slot defender in the big nickel sub-package, which is important to coordinator Jack Del Rio’s scheme.

“He brings a lot to the table,” General Manager Martin Mayhew said. “We saw enough flashes of him playing last year that we feel he’s a guy who can develop into a really good player for us.”

As Commanders minicamp opens, Ron Rivera says roster still has needs

Rivera, who after the draft praised Butler’s speed, physicality and toughness, said his early impression of Butler was that what he saw on tape translated to the field.

“Percy’s speed really shows,” Rivera said of the safety, who ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash. “I mean, you watch him move around, and you go, ‘Wow. That dude can flat-out run.’ ”

In the run-up to the draft, analysts said that while Butler often improvises and sometimes lacks body control while tackling, he has enough speed and instincts to be attractive as a developmental defensive back. Washington will rely on defensive backs coach Chris Harris and secondary coach Richard Rodgers to refine Butler’s promising traits.

One of the quickest ways onto the field defensively would be Buffalo nickel. In his initial conversations with coaches, Butler said they’ve told him, “When we say Buffalo nickel, you’re getting in.” And he knows strong safety Kam Curl, a 2020 seventh-round pick, caught the attention of coaches there.

During the brief minicamp, Butler has taken “a lot of reps” at Buffalo nickel, he said. On one play, he made a mistake by staying on a receiver he was supposed to check off, but after reviewing the concept, he said he knew how to adjust. He noted his college defensive coordinator, Patrick Toney, taught him he would make mistakes but “it’s just about correcting it and not making the same mistake over and over and over.”

“I feel comfortable,” Butler added on playing Buffalo nickel. “I’m learning.”

Commanders’ draft class: What each player brings and how they fit

Butler, at 6 feet and 194 pounds, is smaller than Landon Collins (6 feet, 216) and about the same size as Curl (6-2, 198). Butler was asked whether he had any concerns about being too small to support the run in the NFL.

“I mean, you just got to watch the tape,” he said. “I’m in the box; I’m up high; I’m in the slot. I do it all.”

Inside the bubble at Washington’s facility, explaining the finer points of what he needed to work on to get a good start to his professional career, Butler paused and zoomed out.

Six days earlier, the draft party at his home in Plaquemine, La., a suburb of Baton Rouge, was winding down when his girlfriend, Quetyria Williams, texted him that they needed to go to the hospital. She was having contractions.

In a way, Butler said, he was relieved. He had worried throughout the pre-draft process that she would have their child after he’d left to start his professional career. But overnight, Williams gave birth to a girl they named Eire.

By Thursday, he was headed to Ashburn with all his luggage.

“It was just like a movie for real,” he said — and he probably wouldn’t mind if things stayed that way.

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