Boykin ready to assume Hanson's role as starting nickelback
By Ed Kracz Staff writer, PhillyBurbs.com
PHILADELPHIA — It's amazing how much a weekend can change things.
Take the new names and faces strolling through the Eagles' locker room at NovaCare Complex on Labor Day.
In are guys like offensive tackle Nate Menkin and safety David Sims, the newest members of the Eagles' 53-man roster. Out are Joselio Hanson and Antonio Dixon, a pair of longtime Birds released as part of the turnover brought on by the NFL's cutdown day Friday.
"Nothing is guaranteed, nobody is safe," Brandon Boykin said. "That was the mindset I had going in. Just because I was a draft pick doesn't necessarily mean you're going to make the team. I came in with the mindset that I was just somebody here trying to make the team like everybody else."
Boykin made it. Made it over Hanson, who played the previous seven seasons with the Eagles, even after he had been cut in 2010 and 2011, because he was always brought back just hours after his release. This time, Hanson won't be coming back any time soon. He was picked up by the Raiders.
The always-classy Hanson phoned Boykin just about an hour after he learned of his latest release by the Birds to congratulate the rookie fourth-round pick from the University of Georgia for winning the battle to be the team's starting nickel cornerback.
"I told him thanks for everything he did for me, for preparing me for this moment," Boykin said. "I told him good luck and to keep in touch and if he ever needed anything from me -– he probably won't -– not to hesitate to let me know."
So Boykin will line up plenty on an opposing team's slot receiver. He will also handle kickoff return chores and be the gunner on coverage teams, meaning he is supposed to be one of the first players down the field to make a tackle on a punt returner.
Boykin did a great job in that department against the Browns during a preseason game, when he forced a muffed punt that the Eagles recovered.
"It was a matter of confidence in Boykin," said general manager Howie Roseman in explaining the decision to go with a rookie over a proven veteran in Hanson. "We drafted our players (and) in this day and age in the salary cap era and because of the nature of the salary cap because it's flat, you need young players to play. We have a lot of confidence in Brandon and I think he demonstrated a lot of those skills during the games and during training camp."
Boykin certainly doesn't lack for confidence. Asked the strengths of his game, he said: "Me, I'm a quick guy. I'm pretty strong for my size and my ability to compete with people for jump balls. I feel I have a good enough vertical and can jump high enough to compete no matter where the ball is thrown. My balls skills, too, I always say I feel like a receiver when the ball is in the air. All of those things combined into one makes me that type of scrappy, tough player you have to be in the league."
Like Boykin, Menkin is new to the league, too. Except Menkin didn't come in with the pedigree of being drafted or having played at a Division I university.
He played at Mary Hardin-Baylor, a Division III school in Texas. He was signed shortly after the 2012 draft by the Texans, but was cut Friday then picked up by the Birds on Saturday.
"My agent called me and said Philly is going to grab you," Menkin said. "I was surprised but excited."
Coming from a Division III school is usually not a recipe for success in the NFL, but the 6-foot-4, 296-pound Menkin, again like Boykin, seems confident enough that he can stick around for a while.
"It was a big jump," he said. "Guys are definitely a lot faster, guys are all bigger, so you can't be out of technique or out of position. In D3, I could rally because of my superior size and strength, so it's definitely a learning curve. I got most of my learning curve in Houston, so I started catching up and building on becoming a better player to try to arrive here at the right time."
He arrived with another new face in Sims.
Given the Eagles' lack of depth at safety after Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, Sims went out for his first practice simply looking to learn the Eagles' defense.
I have to "learn the plays before I can (compete)," he said. "I don't think it's going to take too long for the simple fact that the playbook is the same. But the terminology is different, so I've just got to transfer terminology and everything."