In just two seasons with the Raiders, Brice Butler has teased teammates, coaches and fans with his potential.
At 6-foot-3, he’s a big, physical target with the speed to get deep. In preseason games he’s been a playmaker. In the summer of 2014, he led the team with 13 catches for 206 yards and four touchdowns. In 2013, as a seventh-round pick, he had five catches for a whopping 21.6 yards per catch and a TD.
Former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen was impressed by Butler’s performance in practices and games as a rookie, calling him “a nice surprise.”
“When you get a seventh-round draft pick like that who’s really developed, that’s a good thing to have,” said Allen.
Yet Butler had just 17 balls thrown to him in 10 games of his rookie season, catching nine. In 2014, he played 15 games and had 21 catches in 35 targets for a 13.3-yard average and two touchdowns.
Now, however, Butler faces a battle to keep his spot on the roster during training camp, which opens in late July.
The Raiders figure to carry five or six receivers, and the situation will be competitive.
Rookie Amari Cooper, veteran free agent Michael Crabtree and Rod Streater are locks. The athletic Andre Holmes, who caught 47 passes in 2014, also figures to make the team. That leaves one or two jobs remaining for a battle between Butler, veteran Kenbrell Thompkins, veteran pickup Kris Durham and rookies Josh Harper and Austin Willis, as well as return man Trindon Holliday, who’d be counted among the wide receiver group.
One thing that could be in Butler’s favor is the addition of a pair of former USC assistant coaches who were at the school when Butler was a Trojan. Butler was a sought-after recruit in 2008 who decided to go to USC after being recruited by current Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. Also on that staff was Jethro Franklin, now the Raiders defensive line coach.
Butler eventually transferred to San Diego State for his final college season, but Butler said this offseason that he and Norton have remained tight.
“That’s my guy,” Butler said of Norton. “He was one of the guys that came to my house when Coach (Pete) Carroll was recruiting me. From then on, he was one of the guys that if anything goes on, I could talk to him, pick his brain about what I could do better.”
The deciding factor, of course, will be what Butler does on the field in August. He’ll need a third straight solid summer to be on the Raiders’ opening-day roster in September.