Boykin primed to challenge for starting job

Boykin primed to challenge for starting job
June 5, 2013, 7:15 pm
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Brandon Boykin had 31 combined tackles and a forced fumble in 16 games with the Eagles last season. (USA Today Images)

Brandon Boykin didn't exactly get eased into the NFL last year as a rookie.

Unseating Joselio Hanson and serving as the Eagles' primary nickel cornerback right from the start of the season, the fourth-round pick out of Georgia was tasked with defending star receivers Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Victor Cruz and Calvin Johnson all before he had a chance to take a breather at the team's bye in Week 7.

In a historically bad secondary, Boykin was easily the Birds' most impressive cornerback. But despite the welcome departure of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the second-year pro will still likely enter the season as the team's main nickel corner with the free-agent additions of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher ahead of him.

"I definitely know I have the nickel responsibilities as well as corner in this defense," Boykin said following Wednesday's minicamp. "This defense is so fast-paced, people are probably gonna have to play nickel and corner and corners are gonna [have to] play nickel. Everybody's got to know their position."

The Eagles signed Williams to a three-year, $17 million deal and inked Fletcher to a two-year, $5.25 million contract in the offseason.

Still, Boykin will have a chance to compete for one of two outside starting jobs, head coach Chip Kelly said. Kelly and his coaching staff will reserve judgment, particularly on defensive backs, until training camp begins and the players can run 1-on-1 drills and play press coverage.

"For us to make an evaluation on where a guy is going to fit right now, it would really be unfair to him to say, 'I don't really think he's a good press-man,'" Kelly said. "I mean how much press-man did he play?

"It's still open in terms of who our corners are."

A tight-lipped Kelly wouldn't reveal much else about his plans for Boykin, prompting one reporter to ask if he saw Boykin on last year's tape.

"Nah, I didn't watch him at all, is he on the team?" Kelly joked.

The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Boykin was terrific in the slot last season. In the Eagles' Week 2 win over Baltimore, he showcased his impressive vertical leap when he broke up an intended deep pass to Jacoby Jones down the middle of the field with under two minutes to go, ultimately preserving the victory.

He admits he got more comfortable with the position as the season went on, but hinted that he'd definitely like to get a shot at outside cornerback soon, too.

"I know I have the ability to play outside, and I'm sure I'll get the chance when training camp comes," Boykin said. "But I'm comfortable at nickel and I know that that's a place where I know everything that's going on and that kind of helps me transition to the outside.

"Like I said, I can play both. ... As long as I'm on the field helping the team, nickel plays a lot too, so it's whatever."

A return specialist in college, Boykin also jumped into the role of primary kick returner last year. He fielded 45 kickoffs and averaged just over 23 yards per return. It was the Eagles' highest number for a player with over 20 attempts since Quintin Demps averaged 25.3 yards in 2008.

"Special teams-wise, [I'm] doing everything I can, really just trying to take my game to another level knowing that now I'm adjusted to the NFL," Boykin said. "I want to be somebody that makes plays now and somebody that is on the scouting report."

Whether it's in the slot, in press coverage on the outside or in the end zone fielding kicks, Boykin expects to be on the field a lot and much improved in his second pro season.

"I made a few plays early but I was still learning each and every game," Boykin said. "We just continued to not win games at the end, but it was still a learning process for me, and I definitely got better. Just looking at OTAs from last year, my footwork and just my recognition of plays is just amazingly a lot better, so it can only get better."

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