The first face-to-face impression Brad Butler made on the Buffalo Bills' coaches came at the NFL Scouting Combine workouts before the 2006 NFL draft.
"At the combine we asked in him in the interview room, what do you think about your center?" recalled Bills offensive line coach Jim McNally. "Because Virginia had a good center, who he played with. And Brad thought we said, 'What do you think of your senator?' So he started giving us a dissertation on the senator from Virginia, George Allen. So that actually impressed us. He's a very interesting kid, a great kid."
Intelligence helped Butler get drafted by the Bills in the fifth round last year, and it is helping him succeed this year in his first season as a starter.
McNally says Butler has solidified himself as the Bills' starting right guard.
"He's done a really good job, particularly in his pass protection," McNally said. "I think he's a pleasant surprise."
Butler, a 6-foot-7, 315-pounder, has proved to be a fast learner. He played mostly tackle at Virginia, and spent his rookie season last year as a backup tackle.
The Bills liked the idea of putting his big body inside to protect the middle of the pocket, so they switched him to guard in February.
"You've got to have them now, with the big guys in the [defensive] middle," McNally said of big guards. "He's going to get stronger, too."
Butler had shoulder surgery after his senior season at Virginia and was not able to lift weights in the 2006 offseason. He became a contender for a starting spot after a good winter and spring of strength training this year. He beat out Duke Preston and Jason Whittle for the starting job despite playing just one preseason game due to a hamstring injury.
"I think the big thing was just staying here the whole offseason, from January through July," Butler said. "I give all the weight training coaches the credit. They had a specific workout for me, and they had specific things for me to eat, how many calories a day.
"We focused on the core workouts -- your [abdominal muscles] and lower back," Butler said. "I'm a taller guy, and I noticed in college it was a little easier for me to lose blocks because a guy would try to break off and get away."
Tall guards often have trouble getting low enough to maintain good leverage against strong defensive tackles.
"He gets low," McNally said. "He's got good knee bend, he's got good balance, he's in a low stance. His feet are pretty fast. He gets his second step on the ground pretty quick, which is important."
If a guard is slow to get his second step down, he can get hit and knocked off balance.
McNally also sees feistiness in Butler's game.
"He's one of our guys that when the play's almost over, he really finishes guys," McNally said. "He's jumping over piles, kind of nasty. I don't think that will ever change."
The soft-spoken Butler said he used to get fired up hours before a game in college, but he realized he was wasting energy.
"I realized I don't need to be pumped up before the game," he said. "I read a book called 'Mind Gym,' which is popular among professional athletes, and it said you need to figure out what's going to cause you to play your peak performance when the game starts. I try to relax before the game. I'll read the Bible before the game in the locker room for awhile. . . . Once I step on the field for the first play, that's when I try to get pumped up."
Butler says he needs to continually work on his technique. He got beat for a sack by Shaun Ellis in the first Jets game when he lunged forward and got off balance.
"Coach McNally always harps on it," Butler said. "The second you think you've got it, you stop working and that's when you lose it. Confidence is built through demonstrated performance."
Butler was a government major at Virginia, and he has big plans for the offseason. He has lined up a gig to spend some time working with Bills great and former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp in Washington, D.C. He also hopes to get an internship with either HSBC or Merrill Lynch.
"I have to continue to develop my strength," he said. "When I'm working in D.C. I'm going to try to be there for three or four days and come back here so I have the weight lifting coaches helping me out."