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Brandon Boykin, who recorded 31 total tackles in his rookie season, has a chance to start in his second year in the NFL. (AP)
The Brandon Boykin we’ve seen so far at training camp is not the Brandon Boykin we saw last year.
He just looks different.
“I just have that confidence now,” Boykin said Wednesday, after another very impressive practice. “The game’s slowed down for me a lot since last year, and I think it’s all starting to come together and I’m feeling better.
“It’s all in the speed and in your knowledge. The faster you can see things developing, the more you’re able to make plays, and that’s what’s happening. Once that knowledge and stuff upstairs kicks in, you can kind of just let your athleticism take over, and that’s what’s been happening.”
Boykin’s always been remarkably athletic. He runs and leaps like few other corners, and that’s why the Eagles drafted him last year out of Georgia. He’s also just 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, which is why he didn’t get picked until the fourth round.
Talk about getting thrown into the fire. The Eagles released long-time nickel corner Joselio Hanson before the season began, and Boykin found himself in the middle of a woeful secondary on a terrible team.
He got 505 snaps on defense, about 31 per game and fifth-most among all Eagles defensive backs.
He battled. Even in the darkest moments of a dreadful year, he battled. But, yeah, it was a tough year.
“I just tried to continue to play hard,” Boykin said. “That’s all you can really salvage from last season. Play hard and make the best of it. It really developed some mental toughness for me. Winning four games in a long season like that, especially as a rookie, that’s about as bad as it can get.”
Veteran receiver Jason Avant likes what he’s seen from Boykin and said he was impressed with how he continued to fight last year despite being in a difficult spot on what was statistically one of the worst secondaries in NFL history.
“The first year is going to be real hard when they throw you in nickel,” Jason Avant said. “People don’t realize this, but outside is easier than the slot, because when you’re outside, most of the time you have an extra defender -- the sideline -- then you have the safety inside, so there’s actually three people covering out there.
“They call it an island, but it’s really not. When you’re in the slot, you have the safety’s help, but it’s really 1-on-1, because you have [two directions to cover].
“He’s just getting more and more comfortable with it. I knew it was going to be a struggle with him when we let Joselio go. I thought we should have kept Joselio for one more year so Brandon could sit back and learn, and my biggest thing was that he doesn’t lose his confidence, but he’s shown he’s got the fight and the ability to do it.”
The cornerback spot is wide open, and Boykin is having the best camp of all the corners. With Cary Williams still out with a hammy, Boykin worked with the first defense on Wednesday, not in the slot but outside.
He looked really good.
“Boyk’s definitely a lot more comfortable,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “Inside and outside, he’s looked a lot better. Last year was tough for him because you come in and you get baptized by fire, it’s tough. You know, especially when you haven’t seen the plays in the NFL. He’s really gotten comfortable in the slot position and really outside too, he’s really making a lot of plays.”
To get an idea what Boykin has been through, consider this: He just turned 23 on Tuesday, and he’s already on his third defensive coordinator and third position coach.
Now that Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are long gone, there’s a free-for-all for the two starting jobs, and Boykin is in the middle of it.
On Wednesday, Curtis Marsh and Boykin got most of the reps with the 1’s outside, with surprising Eddie Whitley in the slot.
“The coaches are splitting the reps up pretty good,” Boykin said. “Today, I played all outside, and I thought I did a pretty good job just in technique and my fundamentals. Just playing the ball.”
Boykin has had a series of solid practices, and in his mind, a starting job is right there for him if he continues to perform like this.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Everybody’s ultimate goal is to be a starting corner, and that’s what I’m doing and that’s what I’m trying to be. I just want to be as good as I can and be on that field.”