Arguably the most intriguing wide receiver the Raiders have these days is Brice Butler. He is that receiver who has shown flashes of potential in the season and stands out in the preseason, but we cant't get a handle on exactly what kind of player he is going to be or how much playing time he will receive in the offense.
This former seventh round pick out of San Diego State came on strong in last year's training camp and preseason. It was his second training camp and he came prepared after having trained with the likes of Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, and Demaryius Thomas in the offseason.
Butler's improvement was apparent and he earned a spot on the wide receiver rotation in the regular season. Though he never quite received the level of attention in the offense many had expected, himself included.
Last season was frustrating for Butler. Early in the season he too thought he was going to get opportunities in the offense, but it never truly materialized. He topped out at five targets in week five against the Chargers; catching three of those passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. That was also his season best in yards and his only touchdown.
Even with Denarius Moore falling out of favor and Rod Streater out for the season, Butler's targets still didn't go up.
"It was kind of like that last year, I didn't really know what was going on," said Butler. "But this year I have a brand new coaching staff and the regular season hasn't happened. The cookies haven't crumbled yet, so there's no frustration right now, it's just working. Just grinding and competiting every day and knowing what goals I have for myself individually and that's to be out there during the season making plays. I have to keep on day by day achieving those differnt tasks to get the the main goal I want to get to."
The 6-3, 215-pound receiver says he has the proverbial chip on his shoulder and something to prove this season. He came into camp buried on the depth chart and working with the third team offense. In the first week, he didn't stand out as one might have expected. But he made sure he played sound football and limited his mistakes to earn the trust of his coaches.
"If I'm out there, they throw me two balls, I catch two balls, to me I did my job," said Butler. "If I didn't make any mental errors, running the wrong route or getting the wrong guy blocking, I mean to me I did my job for the day. I can't throw myself the ball. If I'm open and I don't get the ball, I can't be upset about that."
"What the coaches want to see during training camp is who they can count on consistently, who they can trust consistently. If I'm a guy that's doing what I'm doing consistently, they can trust me. For me personally, people want to see you making plays, they want to see you making catches, I want to see that too."
That consistency soon had Butler moving up the depth chart in camp. By the second week, he was working mostly with the second team and occasionally got work with Derek Carr and the first team offense. In the first preseason game, he led the team in receiving and impressed his head coach, who mentioned him as a standout unprompted.
"I thought Brice had a big night," Jack Del Rio said following the team's first preseason game. "Brice did some good things, Brice Butler."
I asked Del Rio about what a game like that for Butler could mean for his status in the receiving corps and Del Rio said matter of factly "Guys that do well get more."
Butler came out in the second preseason game and again led the team in catches with three on three targets for 26 yards, giving him a team leading 9 catches on 10 targets for 83 yards and a touchdown this preseason.
Even still, Butler has been here before. He appeared almost a bit jaded about the whole thing after what happened to him last year and understandably so. He led the team in every receiving category last preseason with 13 catches for 206 yards and 4 touchdowns. And yet he was still seventh on the team with just 35 targets on the season. After that experience, he certainly isn't expecting these kinds of performances to translate over to the regular season.
"I can make plays," Butler said. "But this is my third preseason and typically the trend is to play good in the preseason and don't really do much in the regular season, so my mindset's a little different about preseason. I want to do well, of course, every time I step on the field I want to do well, but to me the preseason doesn't really matter much. Because if I go to the regular season and I don't do nothing individually, you know what I mean? So, the way I think about it now is just get ready to do what I gotta do during the season and let the coaches know, since it's a new coaching staff, that I can go out there and do it consistently."
There are indications, however that Butler could receive increased playing time. Following his first preseason performance, Del Rio came to Butler and told him he did well, adding that he should improve his conditioning to be able to play the whole game.
It's clear Del Rio has high hopes for Butler which would require that Butler have the stamina to see a lot of snaps in a game.
With Andre Holmes out with a broken hand, Butler has been in a battle with Kenbrell Thompkins and Rod Streater for playing time behind starters Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.
This third year receiver has already shown up well for his new coaches in the first two preseason games. He will have two more to prove he deserves to be a big part of this offense come the regular season.