By Dave Thomas
Although they are hanging by a thread or two in the AFC wild card race, where would the San Diego Chargers be this season without the play of one Donald Butler?
While Butler doesn’t get the recognition of an Eric Weddle or the name interest of a Manti Te’o, he has proven himself to be a key cog in San Diego’s defense this season.
Heading into this Thursday’s pivotal road test at Denver, Butler has been in on 64 tackles this season, 54 of them solo. In the Chargers big 37-14 home win this past Sunday versus Eli Manning and the New York Giants, Butler snagged his first interception of the season.
Butler and Co. Head to Denver
As most Charger fans will tell you, this week’s road test in the Mile High City will either give the team and its fans some hope for the last two games of the year, or it will turn the focus to playing the role of spoiler and looking down the road to 2014.
With a 6-7 record and three games left in the season, the Chargers find themselves a game back of both Baltimore and Miami (7-6) for a wild card spot. With the division title going to either Denver (11-2) or Kansas City (10-3), San Diego can only hope to get in as a wild card at this point. That said, Butler and his teammates have certainly not thrown in the towel by any means.
Charger fans who are a little bit older likely associate Butler’s number (56) with that of former San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman. The latter played for the Bolts from 2005-2010 before moving on to the Buffalo Bills. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Merriman finished his career with 45.5 sacks and more than 250 tackles.
A third-round pick for the Chargers in the 2010 draft, Butler has become more a factor in San Diego’s defensive plans with each season. The inside linebacker had his best game of the season earlier this month in a 17-10 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, finishing with 10 total tackles (nine solo). Earlier in the season, in heartbreaking loss at home to Houston, Butler tallied nine solo tackles (was in on 13 tackles in all during the game).
Butler put up his best individual numbers in the 2011 season for the Bolts, recording 78 solo tackles (96 total), along with a pair of sacks and an interception.
Staying healthy has been the University of Washington product’s biggest battle this season, as Butler missed three games after aggravating a groin injury during an October practice. He missed four games to a groin injury during the 2012 season.
While Butler is not going to make anyone that follows the Chargers forget about Merriman or the late/great Junior Seau, he has provided a steadying force to a defense that will need to play its game of the season this Thursday evening in the Mile High City.
Chances are that if San Diego’s defense is able to limit the damage one Peyton Manning can do to opponents, there will be a good chance that the Butler did it.
For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.