Rich Hofmann: Eagles rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin could leapfrog Joselio Hanson

Boykin
Boykin
Posted: August 24, 2012

BRANDON BOYKIN was a ninth-grader at Fayette County High School in Georgia when he attended a basketball camp being run by then-Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. Before the games started, he had been dunking and showing off to the other campers. It was a neat trick, seeing as how he was only 5-8 at the time. (He has had a growth spurt since. Now he's 5-9.)

If this sounds like the beginning of the kind of story that tends to grow over time, Boykin insists it isn't. "It's very true," he said. The look on his face indicated he was very glad it was going to be retold, too.

Anyway, Smith was speaking to the group and the rest of the campers began telling him about this little kid who could dunk. The kid was not shy; neither is the man he has become, the Eagles' fourth-round draft choice out of Georgia. With that, Smith made the kid get up before the rest of the assembled campers and demonstrate. He did.

"A 360," Boykin said. "First try, too."

His attempt now, also on the first try, is to be the Eagles' third cornerback. In the current NFL, against most teams, that would put him on the field more than 50 percent of the time. Without actually being a starter, it is nonetheless very close to the same thing. And as we saw last season, as the Eagles fiddled around with the position and consistently got burned - and didn't really get it right until they put Joselio Hanson back in place - it is a position that can kill you.

Right now, Eagles coach Andy Reid is saying that Boykin has a shot at grabbing the job away from Hanson, to go along with Boykin's expected role as the Eagles' primary kick returner. Asked if he would be comfortable being the third corner, Boykin did not flinch.

"Absolutely," he said.

Well, Andy?

"I think you play the best guy, is what you do," Reid said Wednesday. "So you make it as simple as you possibly can in your evaluation of that and say whoever's playing the best will play in that position and that's a close competition there. Those guys are going after it and I thought both of them actually did some good things in the game. So, we'll just leave that as an open competition."

Reid might just be motivating a rookie, or he might be serious. They did give Boykin a long look in the exhibition game Monday night at New England. The Eagles are a team with a thousand capable defensive linemen and no place to put them on the roster, and that could work in the favor of the multidisciplinary skills of Boykin - who did everything at Georgia, including throw the ball sometimes, and who is also the gunner on coverage teams with the Eagles.

But if that short-term expediency works for him, history works against him, along with the fact that - unless something has happened that we don't know about - Hanson has shown himself to be the kind of steady, savvy pro who fits well as the cornerback in the slot (as well as a backup on the outside).

"It's just a consistency thing for me," Boykin said. "I have a lot of great plays and then I just might make a minor mistake. A lot of times in the NFL, that could cost you . . . It's definitely not college."

Here is the history: Even guys like Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown did not start their rookie seasons as third cornerbacks. And as for actually starting a game, well, there is a story there.

The last time the Eagles started a rookie cornerback was 1998. Bobby Taylor had a broken shoulder and they didn't know what to do, so they picked up a kid on Aug. 31 who had been cut by Tampa Bay and started him in the season opener on Sept. 6 against Seattle. It was a game the Eagles lost by 38-0 to begin a season that ended with a record of 3-13. The cornerback's name was Al Harris, who did indeed, despite a thorough scorching, live to tell the tale.

The point is, the position is complicated. And while Reid says, "[he's] getting better every day, so that gap's narrowed," the reality is that Hanson really knows what he is doing. But it is also true that Boykin is the better natural athlete.

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin gets a good look at Boykin every day in practice. He said, "He's very athletic. He'll only continue to get better. There's a lot of technique that you can get away with in college that you can't get away with in the NFL. But I think he's definitely on the right track - and very, very athletic."

It would still seem a long shot, and Boykin says he isn't getting hung up on the question. He said, "I just kind of leave the depth-chart-type things to the coaches."

The fact that we are even having this discussion, though, tells you something.


Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @theidlerich. Read his blog at philly.com/TheIdleRich, and for recent columns see philly.com/RichHofmann.

 

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