By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti
FOXBORO -- You knew you weren't going to see Devin McCourty.
The most famous Patriots faces were sidelined during New England's August opener versus the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night -- no Brady, no Welker, no Mayo, no Wilfork. Preseason presents an opportunity for coach Bill Belichick to evaluate younger players and maybe test those who are on the fence.
For the secondary, that meant there was no Second Team AP All-Pro McCourty on the field. He sat on the bench, bookended by safeties, helmet between his feet.
Darius Butler was not so lucky.
The cornerback played every quarter -- both outside and as a nickel back -- sweating it out for a roster spot. It's a been a hard fall for a player who started last year's regular-season opener.
And it's tough to talk about.
"They made some good throws and got some catches," Butler said. "But that's just part of the game."
That's the best answer he had for Jacksonville training its sniper-sight on his forehead. The Jaguars targeted Butler's side at least six times in the first half -- predictably on third down -- and his coverage blew up more than once. But Belichick kept him in, kept testing him.
Butler is at least happy for the opportunities.
"I felt good," Butler insisted. "I played mostly outside, sometimes I went over. But I felt good. It's the first preseason game and I'm working out some kinks, but hopefully I'll have a better game next time."
He'll have to. Those Patriots who don't prove mettle during these early opportunities won't see the regular season in New England; on August 30 the roster is trimmed from 90 to 75. There are just two games -- in Tampa and Detroit -- between now and then.
At least one cornerback remains hopeful.
"That's what training camp is for," Butler said. "I'm trying to take advantage of that. Preseason is a time to work on your game, work on your craft so you get better every week."
You have to wonder how he felt to watch someone new get thrown into the secondary and instantly make the highlight reel. Buddy Farnham. The wide receiver-turned-safety nabbed the only interception on the night.
"We have a receiver leading the team in interceptions," Belichick said. "It will be a point of embarrassment for the defensive backs, but it's alright; they deserve it."
Kyle Arrington won't lose any sleep tonight. When told about his coach's comment, the third-year corner laughed.
"Oh, yeah -- Buddy. He is leading the team in picks right now," Arrington said. He set the standard so we have to step our game up. Guy out there playing both sides of the ball -- and special teams. I mean, hey, he put in a lot of work today; he did a good job. We're doing our best to keep up," he laughed. "That's the Patriot Way."
Well, not quite.
The play by Farnham, while a positive, counted against his more . . . natural . . . defensive backs. Arrington's joke about stepping things up may not be far off target; Belichick will want more aggressiveness from his men.
Fair enough. But Arrington, like McCourty, doesn't have to worry about his job. Darius Butler, however? He'll have to keep sweating.
Some odds and ends:
Neither cornerback Ras-I Dowling nor safety James Sanders were available Thursday night. Dowling, a 2011 second-round pick drafted out of Virginia, suffered an injury in his first practice (the team's eighth). Sanders is still nursing an injured hamstring.
Jonathan Wilhite came in as a slot corner in the third quarter. His minutes on special teams were unimpressive, just a mess of missed tackles. One has to wonder if Wilhite would be better served as trade bait than as an expensive reserve.
Leigh Bodden showed no signs of the limp he had during Tuesday's practice. Bodden came out in a sub package during Jacksonville's first third-and-long and finished with decent minutes.
Patrick Chung had an off night and it started early. On the fourth play of Jacksonville's opening drive, Rashad Jennings picked up seven yards and dragged Chung along behind for two and a half of them.
In the second quarter, the Jaguars handed off to Deji Karim on 1st-and-10. Karim (11 career games) burned Chung for an 11 yard gain.
And that "pass defensed" call awarded to the third-year safety? Blaine Gabbert actually sailed the ball over his man and directly to Chung. He bent over, hands on knees, frozen in disbelief.
After the game Chung said he nearly dropped down and did reconciliatory pushups where he stood. He also joked that Buddy Farnham will have to teach him how to catch.