The season may now be over for the New Orleans Saints, but the hard work is about to begin for outside linebacker Victor Butler.
The Saints' hopes of making it to the Superbowl were dashed with defeat against the Seattle Seahwaks in the divisional round on Saturday.
While Sean Payton and his team were left to reflect on what might have been, one Saints player has his sights firmly set on next season.
Butler, a free agent from Dallas, didn't play a single game for the Saints this season after suffering a torn ACL in the off-season.
Butler picked up the injury in a seemingly innocuous incident with Mark Ingram - so innocuous that Payton initially said he expected him to return to practise soon afterwards.
Sadly for Butler that wasn't the case - but now he's on his way back to full fitness, and the 26-year-old says he is already looking forward to next season so he can play his part in a play-off charge.
"I'm trying to get some strength back in the quad and feel the way I felt coming into OTAs [Organised Team Activities], he 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 bought in by defensive co-ordinator Rob Ryan to add some much needed steel to the Saints defense.
While he was unable to do that because of injury the Saints coped just fine without him, establishing themselves as the fourth meanest defense in the the league during the regular season.
Butler believes there is even a case to be made for saying the Saints actually had the strongest defence in the NFL.
"Last six, seven weeks, I felt like we were the strongest! If you wan't to go through statistics, we were the No. 1 defense the last couple weeks of the season," he said.
"It's just a testament to the guys and how hard they worked and this coaching staff. ...
"You look now, and what are they, top four? That's a tremendous turnaround from the season before and it's all because of the guys in this locker room."
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