Victor Butler's torn ACL a major blow to rebuilt Saints defense

Wednesday June 12th, 2013

Victor Butler (right) came with Rob Ryan from Dallas to help the Saints transition to a 3-4. (Gerald Herbert/AP)Victor Butler (right) came with Rob Ryan from Dallas to help the Saints transition to a 3-4. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

The New Orleans Saints were counting on Victor Butler to provide some vital pass-rushing help in their new 3-4 defense, after signing the former Cowboy to a two-year deal this offseason. With a little less than three months left until the start of the regular season, the Saints now must figure out another plan.

Butler tore his ACL during Tuesday's OTA workout, Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune reported, which "likely" will land Butler on injured reserve. The injury occurred when Butler collided with running back Mark Ingram during a drill.

The 25-year-old Butler recorded 11.0 sacks in four years with the Cowboys, despite seeing severely limited playing time as a situational pass rusher. He set a career-high last season by playing 300 snaps ... or about 700 fewer than the Saints would have received from him in 2013, in an ideal world. Instead, those opportunities will fall to some combination of Martez Wilson, Junior Galette and Will Smith at the Saints' two OLB positions.

The smart money is on Wilson and Galette, with the 280-pound Smith looking like a mismatch for a 3-4 outside linebacker spot. Jeff Duncan, also of the Times-Picayune, projects that Wilson will take over as the starting strongside ("SAM") linebacker while Galette and Smith battle it out on the other side.

The 25-year-old Galette and 23-year-old Wilson certainly have an edge in terms of youth (Smith is 31) and quickness; Smith did lead that trio in sacks last season with 6.0, though that production came out of a 4-3 with Smith at defensive end, and he saw far more playing time than either Galette or Wilson.

A sleeper candidate in the mix: rookie Chase Thomas, an undrafted free agent out of Stanford. Thomas finished his four-year Stanford career with 27.5 sacks and 50.5 tackles for loss, so he knows how to get into the backfield. He does not have the speed of either Galette or Wilson, but an opportunity may be there nonetheless moving forward.

No matter how you slice it, though, this is a major blow for the Saints entering what they hope is a bounce-back season. It's a substantial setback for Butler, too -- after four years as a Cowboys reserve, he finally had found himself an enviable situation, only to suffer this injury.

The pressure falls on Galette, Wilson and Smith, for starters, to pick up the slack.

BURKE: Inside the Saints' new-look defense
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