Donald Butler was told a time would come.

A time when making plays wasn't enough, when production went beyond the stat sheet, when a signature role for greats at his position needed to become his.

The Chargers inside linebacker looks around. He sees it now.

"I think it's my time to be that vocal leader," Butler said this week. "That's what I'm going to do."

Six of the Chargers' 11 defensive starters from last year's opening roster are either free agents or have signed with a different team. The list includes three on the front seven — inside linebacker Takeo Spikes, outside linebacker Shaun Phillips and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin — with a combined 34 years of NFL experience.

Some veteran leadership was lost.

With Butler's rising voice, the team hasn't scrambled to replace it.

On March 7, Spikes, a team captain the past two years, was released. On March 12, Phillips and Franklin became free agents. On March 13, Butler didn't wake up suddenly wanting to become a vocal leader.

The preparation began long ago.

Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano approached in 2010 a rookie from Washington with the concept of one day filling the role. Pagano coached the team's linebackers at the time.

“Pagano said that that's what he eventually needed me to do,” Butler, 24, said. “Since Day 1, I've just been listening and watching, ears open and really just trying to learn as much as I can about being a leader, the guys around me and really, to lead by example.”