An offseason of promise almost became an offseason of panic for the New Orleans Saints last summer.

By the time the dust had settled on the preseason, veterans Will Smith (ACL) and Jonathan Vilma (knee) were both placed on injured reserve, as was veteran free-agent defensive end Kenyon Coleman (chest).

But perhaps the biggest blow on defense came in the form of Victor Butler's torn ACL. An outside linebacker acquired from Dallas via free agency, Butler didn't get a chance to suit up for the Saints this season.

It was early June during organized team activities (OTAs) when Butler collided with running back Mark Ingram during a final drill in the indoor facility. Ingram got up, but Butler remained on the turf for several minutes before eventually walking off under the assistance of trainers.

The initial collision, which happened in front of reporters, looked minor, and coach Sean Payton said later that day he thought Butler would be fine. But the eventual diagnosis, an ACL tear, meant Butler's season was over before it even began.

Butler was a key free-agent acquisition, brought in from Dallas by new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to aid the Saints' pass rush and help usher in Ryan's new 3-4 scheme. He remained on the physically unable to perform list all season and was not able to return before the season ended.

Now going into the final season of the initial two-year deal he signed with the Saints, he feels even more eager to prove himself and get back on the field.

"I'm trying to get some strength back in the quad and feel the way I felt coming into OTAs, Butler said. "I felt real good, my body felt good, so I'm just trying to get back to that and be a part of this team. It's a special team. And we had a great run this year, and I just want to be part of it next year."

Butler was the first domino to fall that summer as Coleman, a run-stuffing defensive end and free agent also from Dallas, and Smith both went to IR before the season even began.