Eagles' Brandon Boykin seems to have earned starting spot

Brandon Boykin is expected to start at nickel corner and return kickoffs against Browns.
Brandon Boykin is expected to start at nickel corner and return kickoffs against Browns. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 05, 2012

SUDDENLY, the Eagles have at least two rookies expected to fill prominent roles when the season opens Sunday at Cleveland.

It's no surprise that Mychal Kendricks is the starting strongside linebacker; Kendricks claimed that role before training camp, and he played well in the preseason. It is a bit of a surprise that Brandon Boykin, the fourth-round pick from Georgia, apparently will open the season as nickel corner, in addition to handling kickoff return duties. Boykin also worked as a special-teams gunner in preseason, forcing a fumble in the New England game.

"It's a big opportunity, especially with me being a rookie . . . there's not any time to ease into it or get adjusted to it," Boykin said Monday. "But if people didn't have confidence in me that I could do it, I don't think I'd be in this position . . . That really makes me feel good that they trust me with it."

Veteran Joselio Hanson, regarded as tough to dislodge from the slot job he'd held since 2006, was the biggest surprise among the Eagles' cuts Friday. Monday, Hanson signed and practiced with the Oakland Raiders, as Boykin practiced for the first time with the Eagles' slot job all to himself.

Boykin said he didn't get a lot of feedback from teammates Friday or over the weekend; it wasn't as if he'd been expected to be cut, or anything.

"It's not a congratulatory thing, I don't feel like," Boykin said. "In a sense [it is], but it's more so, 'all right, now let's see what you're going to do.' "

Boykin said at practice, "[Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie] and everybody was just kinda saying, 'you'll be OK, you've got the ability to play, you're a great player, otherwise you wouldn't be in this situation.' Everybody's got my back, just trying to help me on everything. They know that I can play and I'm glad they're by my side."

Boykin is doing a feature called "Rookie Diary" for the Eagles' website. He wrote Monday of having found out Friday that Hanson was cut via Twitter, from someone he didn't know congratulating him, just before Hanson called to wish him luck.

Everybody realized when Boykin was drafted in April, it was to replace Hanson, sooner or later. It seemed possible Boykin would run back kicks and not get a lot of snaps at corner this year, but in the preseason, Boykin played a lot and satisfied coaches he could do Hanson's job now.

Boykin said that despite the obvious conflict of interest, Hanson, 31, was helpful, at least to a point. That's a tradition in the row of stalls where the defensive backs dress that goes back at least a decade, to Troy Vincent and Sheldon Brown. Brown once said Vincent spoke of a responsibility to the game, and that he tried to follow Vincent's example, when players such as Hanson came along.

"He did help me, as far as technique. Anything I asked, really, He wouldn't not help me," Boykin said of Hanson. "At the same time, we were kind of competing for that job, so it wasn't like he was going to mentor me."

Boykin found out during practice, he said, that Hanson had relocated to Oakland. He expected to text or call sometime Monday afternoon.

Starting corner Nnamdi Asomugha said Boykin has shown he has the ability to do the job, "now he has to go out and do it."

Overall, 10 rookies were among the 53 Eagles on Monday's roster, along with another four "first-year players," such as offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds, who spent 3 years on the practice squad but has never played a game in the NFL. The rookie ranks included two promising running backs, seventh-rounder Bryce Brown and undrafted Chris Polk.

Brown, once acclaimed as the top high school recruit in the country, sat out the 2010 season after transferring from Tennessee to Kansas State. Then he played just one game at Kansas State last year before injuring an ankle and leaving the team. Now he has a chance to redeem the promise he once showed. He said that wasn't really what he was thinking about, though.

"I don't think it's a surprise to anybody ," Brown said. "I know I haven't played a lot of games . . . it doesn't matter anymore. I've got a new opportunity here, I'm taking advantage of it. Excited, blessed, happy to be part of this organization."

Polk said he couldn't sleep Thursday night, after gaining 61 yards on 14 carries in the preseason finale, the night before the final cuts.

"I was just really glad my phone didn't ring. It just goes to show, dreams really do come true," Polk said.

The Eagles had to be willing to keep four running backs for Polk to make the roster, something that is unusual but not unheard of. In the end, they realized they would lose Polk if they tried to sneak him through waivers to the practice squad, so he's here. It's not real clear whether he has a real role, of course, behind LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis (who said Monday his hammy is healthy for the opener), and Brown.

"This is only the beginning, it's not the end," Polk said, when asked about making the team - meaning, now the real work starts. "Obviously, I'd like to play, but whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do."

McCoy said he wasn't surprised that both Brown and Polk made it.

"I figured we'd keep them on," he said. "There's so much depth . . . The better teams in this league are the teams that have depth. There's not a big difference from the best teams in this league to the weaker teams. Having depth makes the difference, and I think we have a lot of depth."

Contact Les Bowen at bowenl@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' blog at eagletarian.com.

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