Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS Saints outside linebacker Victor Butler jogs to a drill during practice Sunday in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Once the offseason leader of a new-look Saints defense, outside linebacker Victor Butler is now competing against himself.

Can I play a wreckless style of football — the style which got me to the NFL — without reinjuring my left knee?

I’m worried that a cut block might send me back to the doctor. Even end my career.

I don’t want to go back to rehab.

These mental obstacles, and other cerebral challenges, are Butler’s biggest foes during Saints training camp at The Greenbrier.

Two days into full-pad practices, he’s learning to trust his body again, especially his surgically repaired knee. He’s also learning to take control of his future by discarding his recent past, filled with anger, boredom and depression as a result of banging knees with teammate Mark Ingram during an OTA practice in June 2013.

He must, if he hopes to create a new role for himself.

“I would like to get back to where I’m used to playing,” said Butler, who is entering his sixth NFL season. “Slowly but surely, it’s getting there.”

So far, his biggest impact with the Saints has occurred with his words.

Butler dared last spring to predict the Saints would rebound from what was the worst defensive campaign in NFL history to become a top-five defensive unit. It happened with Butler watching from the sideline.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan knows he can do much more.

“We’re excited about that, can’t wait to see him play, see him rush the passer, do the things we know he’s capable of,” Ryan said.

Watching from the side

Butler left Dallas after four seasons and 11 sacks for a chance to escape the shadows of Pro Bowlers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, following Ryan to the Saints.

After his own injury troubles, Butler watched fellow outside linebacker Will Smith suffer a similar season-ending injury during the preseason. Both were replaced. Reserve Junior Galette become a starter and enjoyed a breakout season with 12 sacks. Also, the Saints acquired Parys Haralson from San Francisco during the preseason.

Without Butler and Smith, the Saints ranked fourth in the league in total defense and sacks (49).

“I was a fan first,” Butler said. “You have to appreciate the efforts of your teammates, and those guys played tremendous football.

“I’m a teammate first. Individual second.”

Galette’s rise was likely too high to lead to a competition this summer for his starting job. Not to mention Galette has looked sharp, fast, focused and powerful at training camp. Meanwhile, Haralson’s run-stopping ability makes him vital.

What’s left is Butler playing in the rotation at either position, perhaps earning additional playing time with certain sub-defensive packages.

So far, he’s had a quiet training camp.

“I think he’s in good shape, and I think he’s at 100 perfect,” coach Sean Payton said. “It’s just getting back into the football shape and carrying the pads and doing all the little things well.”

Ready to return

Butler’s torn anterior cruciate knee ligament marked one of five major season-ending injuries to Saints defenders in 2013. Of that group, only Butler and second-year pro Kenny Vaccaro remain.

Realizing the Saints are a different team than they were in 2013, Butler just wants to get on the field, make an impact.

“All I can do is to get out there and put my best football I can put on film, and if it leads to a starting job or rotational job or special teams job, who knows,” he said. “All I can do is try to do the best that I can do to my abilities.”