Carolina Panthers first-round pick Vernon Butler might be coming off the bench in his regular-season debut.
But the defensive tackle nicknamed “Big Vern” plans to make a big first impression.
“I’m ready,” Butler said Tuesday. “First NFL game, I want to show everybody what I’ve got, what I can do.”
Butler and free agent acquisition Paul Soliai will spell starters Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei in a deep defensive tackle rotation Thursday at Denver. Panthers coach Ron Rivera plans to do the same thing at defensive end, saying he doesn’t want starters Kony Ealy and Charles Johnson in for more than 35-45 snaps.
“If you play more than that, then you start worrying about fatigue for those guys,” Rivera said.
Speed rusher Mario Addison will get work at one of the backup spots. Rivera did not say whether Ryan Delaire or recent pick-up Lavar Edwards would be the other end.
Butler, the 30th overall pick in April, had a slow start in his first training camp. Butler (6-4, 325) would get a good initial push against offensive linemen, but had trouble finishing plays.
That was the knock on Butler coming out of Louisiana Tech, where he managed only five sacks during four seasons in pass-happy Conference USA.
But he was better at disengaging blockers later in the preseason. He started in the final exhibition against Pittsburgh and finished with three solo tackles.
Butler believes the limited reps will keep him fresh and make him more effective against the Broncos.
“That’s my goal, come out and make an impact on the game,” he said. “Make plays and make something happen.”