Butler helps bring attention back to UW pro day

When linebacker Donald Butler came to Washington from Del Campo High in Sacramento, Calif., in time for the 2006 season, he expected a lot more than what he got.

Butler hoists the Apple Cup after UW's win over Washington State.
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Huskies were expecting new energy from head coach Tyrone Willingham, who had been hired the year before to turn the formerly great program around. What Butler got in his first three seasons was a 9-28 record (including a 0-12 season in 2008) and the kind of anonymity that comes with a losing program. But when former USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian replaced Willingham before the 2009 campaign, things turned around quickly. Washington posted a 5-7 record in 2009, and narrow losses to LSU and Notre Dame barely kept the program from its first winning season since 2002.

Perhaps nowhere were Washington’s renewed fortunes reflected more prominently than during the school’s pro day on Wednesday.

Recent Washington pro days had been moribund affairs, with handfuls of NFL teams sending representatives to watch relatively unexciting players. In fact, the program hasn’t had a player drafted since quarterback Isaiah Stanback(notes) was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round of the 2007 draft. This year, however, at least 15 NFL squads sent members of their personnel staffs to monitor the efforts of 11 Huskies.

Butler was the primary attraction. As the one certain draft-ready player on the 2009 team, he flashed pro-style attributes in several drills.

Accustomed to running around 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, Butler ran hand-times at 4.66 and 4.67 despite a sprained ankle suffered during Senior Bowl week that prevented him from sprinting at the NFL scouting combine, and he chose to stand on the 35 bench presses he did at the combine. More importantly, he displayed excellent zone speed in several drills set up by the Washington staff and a member of the Baltimore Ravens’ personnel department.

“The fact that I can drop back, and I can understand passing concepts, and make a break on the ball, just helps my stock even more,” said Butler, who recorded 94 total tackles, 15½ tackles for loss, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles last season.

“He’s very bright. A lot of times, football players look good, and Donald looks great and his numbers are fantastic, but he’s very bright,” Sarkisian said. “He can play all three of the linebacker positions, and he was on three different special teams for us last year – punt, kickoff, and kick return. There’s a lot to his game that will allow him to play at [the next] level and not just be a one-dimensional guy.”

Another Washington defender who will most likely garner attention in the later rounds, or possibly as an undrafted free agent, is defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.

During the program’s dark years, Te’o-Nesheim was a rare bright spot, starting 49 games and setting the school’s all-time sacks record with 30. Downgraded by some because he lacks ideal size (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) and speed for his position, Te’o-Nesheim has impressed everyone around him with the things that don’t show up when searching for measurables.

“God, his motor – he just goes and goes and goes,” Butler said of his teammate. “He never stops, and guys just get tired of blocking him after a while. He’s a high-energy guy who is there on every down. Definitely a guy you can count on in the fourth quarter.”

Coach Sark concurred: “I’ve never seen a guy work and practice and play the way he plays – the effort that he plays with. That’s why he’s so productive – that’s why he’s the all-time sack leader in the history of this school.”

Te’o-Nesheim had 14 sacks in ’09.
(Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)

This effort transferred easily to his pro day. Te’o-Nesheim clearly put every ounce of energy into his drills, showing impressive aggressiveness in the bag drills and agility in space on the field.

It was no surprise that the Seattle Seahawks’ staff led the event in attendance; head coach Pete Carroll had Sarkisian on his staff at USC, and linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr. seemed particularly interested in Butler’s exploits.

“It’s a great resource for us,” Sarkisian said of his old boss. “To have him here – we’re very comfortable with his coaching staff, and he’s very comfortable with ours. It’s a win-win for both of us.”

With an outstanding recruiting class in 2010 and a likely top-5 draft pick in 2011 in quarterback Jake Locker, Sarkisian had best get used to increased visibility for these events. And as he said, that’s the whole idea.

“Next year, the goal is to have more guys working out and more here to watch them. And the next year, there’s more guys working out, and even more to watch them. I don’t know if it’s a direct indication of how good you are as a football program, but it is a direct indication of the type of players you have.”

After a long time on the downside of things, it’s now the Sarkisian version of the Washington team that finally has a pro day – and a pro-ready program – well worth watching.

Doug Farrar is a regular contributor to Yahoo! Sports’ Shutdown Corner

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Updated Thursday, Mar 11, 2010