THE GUY in the Eagles' secondary you don't worry about is Brandon Boykin.
There's little doubt that Boykin, embarking on his third season as the nickel corner, can perform that role well. His six interceptions tied for second in the NFL last season, even though he played just 51 percent of the Birds' snaps, and he was a sure tackler, who never seemed hesitant or confused. If the NFL weren't trending so heavily toward big corners on the outside, Boykin, listed generously at 5-10, 185, very well might have supplanted either Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher by now.
Boykin hasn't missed a game in his two seasons. (He did attract a little attention during yesterday's training-camp workout when he got tangled up with receiver Quron Pratt, twisted his ankle and was kicked in the jaw; Boykin then sat out for a few minutes before returning to the fray.)
Boykin seems equally dependable off the field. Though he left Georgia to prepare for the NFL draft after the fall semester in 2011 needing 12 hours of credits for his Grady College journalism degree, Boykin tweeted Sunday that he had completed the task. He hashtagged his accomplishment with "#priceless" and "#done."
"My mom and my dad actually were the first on both sides of the family to graduate from college. It's a standard, it's an expectation for our family, something I feel like I'll continue with my kids," Boykin said yesterday. "They really harped on that when I was a kid . . . I'm excited that I finished."
Alfred Boykin ran track at Alabama State and now has his own small trucking company in Fayetteville, Ga., where Brandon grew up. Lisa Boykin went to Georgia Southern and is a registered nurse. They attend all of Brandon's games.
Brandon said he made sure schools recruiting him knew that he wasn't going just to play football, wasn't looking to glide through, paying just enough attention to stay eligible.
"[Georgia coach Mark Richt] isn't that type of coach," Boykin said. "Big time, SEC-type football, people expect it to be, like, easy academically so you can focus on football. That's totally not the case at Georgia. That's why a lot of guys either transfer or get kicked out or whatever, because he really tries to make you be responsible and become a grown man . . . He did understand [Boykin's focus]."
Boykin took the classes he needed to make up online, which was more convenient than relocating to Athens in the offseason, but also entailed challenges.
"Deadlines," he said, when asked about the toughest part of his quest. "Whether it's football, you gotta do something businesswise, be in another state, you always have to make sure you're on top of your work . . . Not being in college, you have a bunch of other responsibilities."
Six of the Eagles' seven draftees this spring either had their degrees or were about to receive them. Asked about that, Eagles coach Chip Kelly said it wasn't a coincidence.
"Intelligence is a huge part of what we're looking for in every aspect that we do, whether it's offense, defense or special teams," Kelly said during the draft. "So the fact that they have a degree is proving where they are from an intelligence factor. The other thing . . . what is their commitment? They set goals out for themselves, and can they follow through? A lot of people can tell you they want to do this, this and this. But look at their accomplishments.
"Tony Dungy came to speak to our team when I was at Oregon . . . and I think he had some statistics that kind of blew our mind, that the two teams from 2000 to 2010 that had the most graduates were the Colts and the Patriots, and there was something to it. Teams that are really successful seem to have that."
Boykin said he chose his major because he wants a broadcasting career. He said he knows a lot of people get into the business with communications degrees, but he wanted a foundation in journalism. Georgia's Grady College is the home of the Peabody Awards. Boykin does a Georgia football show on offseason Saturdays for an ABC affiliate and has worked with Channel 6 here.
"I feel like I've kind of got a knack for it," he said. "It's kind of like football. You're just on the spot. You're expected to perform. There's no room for error."
On the air or in the nickel, it's important to be able to think on your feet.
As Boykin was being interviewed yesterday, linebacker Mychal Kendricks walked by. "Say my name!" Kendricks commanded.
"Rihanna," Boykin immediately responded.
The pop star posted Kendricks' photo on Instagram back in January with an "MCM" notation for "Man Crush Monday."
Fletcher was asked what makes Boykin effective in the slot.
"He's a very quick, explosive guy, and he has a good awareness on the inside there, seeing things develop in front of him," Fletcher said. "It's a great asset to have in there, and he's really good at it."
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis talked about that when he was asked a question yesterday about another corner, Nolan Carroll, who is used to playing outside but is slated for a dime role with the Eagles. Davis said corners who play inside have to learn what to watch, in order to anticipate.
"The closer you get to the ball, the more your eyes are important," Davis said.
An outside corner has the sideline to help him; inside, positioning is much trickier. Asked about Boykin, Davis said: "We really locked him in the nickel spot and he's really coming along, in the understanding of his leverage and the entire scheme. I think he got better as the year went on, and a lot of that was understanding the leverage component of playing inside."
Boykin, whose potential was a hot training-camp topic a year ago, said he doesn't mind that his abilities seem more taken for granted this year.
"When you surprise people, it's all new, and all that. But once you make those plays, you've got to stay at that standard, or play above [it]. That's kind of where I am," he said. "People know I can make plays, people expect me to make plays. I expect it out of myself."
On Twitter: @LesBowen