By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — Late in Monday's afternoon practice, Andrew Luck had the Indianapolis Colts driving into the red zone.
Luck had finished the previous drive with back-to-back incompletions in the red zone, and he was looking to make amends here. He looked toward the flat and fired a pass into the seam.
A blue jersey broke late on the ball and flashed in front of the receiver at nearly the last instant. Darius Butler never broke stride, pulling in his second interception of Luck in as many days before the turning the corner and racing down the sideline.
His defensive teammates let out a loud cheer on the other side of the field, and Butler basked for a brief moment in the spotlight.
"You want to celebrate," the fifth-year cornerback said. "It's tough to make plays in this league, especially going against guys like (Matt) Hasselbeck and Luck and Reggie Wayne and guys like that. So any time you make a play, you feel good about it."
Butler made his fair share of plays last season, finding a home in Indianapolis after two seasons in New England and one with Carolina. He appeared in 11 games, making four starts, and picked off four passes — returning two for scores.
During a Nov. 8 win at Jacksonville, Butler became the first Colts defender in nearly 20 years to record three takeaways in a single game. He intercepted a pair of passes and recovered a fumble en route to AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Butler has continued that upward momentum through the early days of training camp at Anderson University. Working with the first unit in nickel packages, he has been one of the defensive standouts.
Indianapolis finished with 12 more turnovers than takeaways in 2012, and improving that ratio is one of the team's primary goals this season.
"It's definitely something we're harping on as far as interceptions, strips, fumbles, getting that ball," Butler said. "Nothing correlates more to winning in the NFL."
There are plenty of new faces in the defensive backfield to aid in that pursuit.
Fellow cornerback Greg Toler has been solid since he joined the team as a free agent in March, and strong safety LaRon Landry has brought an intimidating presence that's been missing since Bob Sanders last roamed the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Throw in returning cornerback Vontae Davis and free safety Antoine Bethea and you have a secondary that's entertaining some very high expectations.
"We could be the best in the league if we come out and work every day and feed off each other," Butler said.
That kind of confidence has permeated the defense throughout camp. There's a swagger on that side of the football that seems to be the product of a year of experience in head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's hybrid 3-4 scheme.
"You can see it, right?," Pagano asked after Tuesday morning's walkthrough. "You can see that swagger coming, right? Defensively, every time you step on the field, you expect greatness. You expect to make plays, create turnovers, stop the run. All those types of things."
And the Colts expect to have fun doing it.
The cheer that followed Butler's late-practice interception Monday was not uncommon. When the defense has made big plays this summer, and it's made its fair share, the players have never failed to enjoy the moment.
"That's one of the best ways to get through training camp is having fun, feeding off of other guys' energy," Butler said. "Every day you're not going to come out here feeling great and feeling tip-top shape. It's a grind so you want to have fun with it."