Unlike Hanson, he is young.Boykin just turned 22, two weeks ago. Hanson will turn 31 on Aug. 18.Even though Hanson has established himself as one of the NFL's better slot corners in the six seasons he's been with the Eagles, he was informed by the coaches at the team's first minicamp this spring that he would be "competing'' for the nickel job in training camp with Boykin. To which Hanson responded, bring it on.
"It's just the way it is when you're not a highly drafted player,'' Hanson said. "I came out of college [Texas Tech] as a free agent. It's just something you deal with. I've never really been a starter. So you're always competing for your job. This year's no different than any other.''
It's a little different in that Hanson is another year older and the Eagles are flush with young corners on their training-camp roster, including Boykin, 2011 third-round pick Curtis Marsh, rookie free agent Cliff Harris and 26-year-old Brandon Hughes.
My guess is that if you shot head coach Andy Reid, general manager Howie Roseman and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo with truth serum, all of them would admit that they'd prefer to see Boykin, who also can return kickoffs and punts, beat out Hanson for the nickel job.
Boykin still is going to make the team even if he doesn't beat out Hanson. But if Boykin wins the job, it's unlikely the Eagles will keep Hanson around as the fourth corner with Marsh, Hughes and possibly Harris as dime-package options. They did it last year, cutting Hanson before the start of the season and then re-signing him a few days later for less money. He ended up spending a good chunk of the season as the No. 4 corner behind Asante Samuel and newcomers Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
But last year was different. The Eagles brought in Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie without giving a whole lot of thought to who was going to play inside. Hanson was sort of an insurance policy in case neither Asomugha nor Rodgers-Cromartie could play inside, which pretty much turned out to be the case.
Unfortunately, it took more than half the season for the Eagles to come to that conclusion. And even then, it took an ankle injury by Rodgers-Cromartie to get them to put Hanson back at nickel.
But that was then and this is now, and now Hanson has to prove himself all over again, against a young whipper-snapper 9 years his junior.
"When you come in this league at the bottom,'' said Hanson, who was signed by the Eagles in '06 out of NFL Europe, "it doesn't take any motivation to get you going. Maybe if I had come in as a first-round pick or something, it'd be different. But I came in from the bottom and worked my way all the way up. I don't want to let anybody take that from me.''
Boykin has a couple of advantages over Hanson. He's faster and also can play outside. Hanson has been used occasionally outside during his career when the Eagles have been in a pinch because of injuries. But his strength is playing inside, where short-area quickness is more important than pure speed.
Asomugha, who struggled when Castillo moved him inside at times last season, has tremendous respect for Hanson's ability to play inside and thinks he will be the team's nickel corner when the season opens on Sept. 9. Asomugha, who is 5 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than Hanson, probably will be bumped inside against two-tight end sets.
"He's done it for a long time,'' Asomugha said. "And it's always been his thing. To the point that people don't think about him as an outside corner. He understands the game so well from the inside. When it comes to three receivers in a game, it'll be tough to beat someone like Joselio out of that inside spot.''
Said Hanson: "Nnamdi knows how tough it is in there. It's a lot of work in there. Game in and game out, the game plan changes. You've got to be able to make adjustments quick. It's tough. It's tough in there.''
Hanson reported to training camp last week in the best shape of his life. He's added muscle. He said he feels faster and quicker than ever.
But Boykin is a very good player.
Asked about his relationship with Boykin, Hanson said, "This is a game, man. I'm just trying to come out here and have fun. Boykin's a cool guy. I'm pretty sure during the season that we'll hang out more and get to know each other.''
The Eagles had one of the league's best pass rushes last season. They tied for the league lead in sacks with 50. Yet, despite that fierce pass rush, they gave up 27 touchdown passes, which was the ninth most in the league.
"Everybody's where they should be now,'' Hanson said. "DRC is making plays [on the outside]. He'll be the first to tell you that he belongs outside. Nnamdi's at his spot. He's moving around a little bit. But we're ready to have a good season.''