One’s the hot-shot rookie, stealing all the camp headlines for his tireless work ethic and the damage he’s inflicting from the slot.
The other’s the established slot corner, the guy who led the team in interceptions last year in just his second season.
Jordan Matthews vs. Brandon Boykin.
It should have been the dominant storyline since the start of camp. But for some reason, the two inside specialists didn’t square off against each other with consistency until Tuesday’s practice.
When they finally dueled, they quickly became the camp highlight, each one using every ounce of his willpower and strength to combat the other. They battled in 1-on-1s, 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s, each giving the best of himself against the other.
All for the sake of personal and team betterment.
“Me and him talked [Monday]. He wanted to get more work with me in the slot because I’ve been doing a lot of outside stuff,” Boykin said. “I wanted to get a matchup against him to give a realistic look against a slot [corner] as opposed to a safety.
“We’ll probably be working together probably every day as much as we can. But yeah, I’m definitely trying to make him better, make myself better. He’s already good even though he’s a rookie. He’s a tall guy and he’s physical, so it’s good for both of us.”
Boykin emerged as the clear winner after Round 1. During a 1-on-1 showdown, Matthews beat Boykin by a step but lost handle of the ball when the cornerback slammed his forearm across the receiver’s shoulders.
In another 1-on-1, Boykin jammed both of his hands into the receiver’s chest before the ball was snapped, which really isn’t legal, so the play re-started. Matthews then beat Boykin for a reception over the middle, but he used his long arms to create separation, which could have drawn a flag in a real game.
Boykin, who along with Curtis Marsh (see story) was one of the day’s brightest stars, broke up another pass intended for Matthews during 7-on-7s.
“He’s easily one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league,” Matthews said. “I don’t have to talk about him, the numbers show. So everybody knows that and he’s shown that, and not just in a game but he’s also showing it in practice, so it definitely get competitive. But it’s all love out there.”
When the Eagles drafted Matthews, the former Vanderbilt stud who rewrote the SEC’s record books for receptions and receiving yards, coach Chip Kelly said the second-round wideout would start his career on the inside.
It seemed natural that he’d match up frequently against Boykin, who exclusively plays the slot and tied for second in the NFL last year with six interceptions.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Matthews has great size and quickness for the inside. The 5-foot-10 Boykin compensates for lack of size with tremendous strength and instincts. He’s the best athlete in the secondary, if not the entire defense.
But so far through camp Matthews has mainly worked inside with the second offense while Boykin has rotated between first-team slot and second-team right corner. So the two never really got to match up much until Tuesday.
In 1-on-1s, Matthews had mostly drawn safety Malcolm Jenkins. He decided that he needed a new look.
“I said, ‘Malcolm, it’s good to get work against you, you’re a safety, I want to see how it is to go against somebody a little bit more physical in there, somebody that’s gonna try to really get their hands on me,’” Matthews said. “And then [Monday] and [Tuesday] morning I said, ‘Yo Boykin, let’s go together. I need to make sure I work against you a little bit.’
“So that’s why we took a lot more 1-on-1 reps together today and then I also got to work on him against him some in teams, too. It’s just about seeing different looks, being able to work against different type guys and then try to put that all together in my game.”
Boykin intentionally knocked Matthews around some, priming the rookie for what he should expect to see in the preseason and regular season.
“I know he’s a big guy, but he said what he needed to work on was getting people off of him using his hands,” Boykin said, “because he is big and people will probably be able to get up under him.”
Boykin is impressed with the rookie’s work ethic, but he said Matthews’ height and physicality can work against him as much as it benefits him.
“Of course with the changes the referees are making this year, a lot of times he pushes off at the end of the play, so he’s got to learn how to use his body as leverage instead of using his hands,” Boykin added. “Those are kind of some of the things he worked on [Tuesday]. I think he went against me and pushed off at the end of the play. I don't know if they would have called it or not, but instead of using your hands, use your shoulder or just use your leverage. He’ll work on it. He’ll be good.”