When opposing quarterbacks seek a cornerback to target, Brandon Boykin is a likely candidate.
It's not just that he's a rookie fourth-round pick, a designation that requires a certain initiation process before the player earns respect around the league. It's that Pro Bowlers Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie play the outside cornerback spots for the Eagles, leaving Boykin with the task of playing the middle.
With Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Victor Cruz having taken snaps as slot receivers in the last three weeks against the Eagles, Boykin's introduction to the NFL has come quickly.
"When you have two Pro Bowl-type corners on the outside and then you have a rookie [in the slot], it's not Boykin's fault it's his first year in the NFL," defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said.
Boykin found himself in the spotlight Thursday after Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown told the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa., that Boykin was the "candy bar" in the Eagles' defensive backfield, meaning Boykin is the one who can be exploited when the Steelers host the Eagles on Sunday.
Boykin brushed off the comment, refusing to exchange barbs with an established NFL player - albeit one Boykin admitted he didn't know much about until preparing for Pittsburgh this week.
"It's good he's pointing me out and it's not doing anything other than giving me a little more attention," Boykin said. "I've got to go out and do what I do. And if I do right, he's actually helped me in a sense. So tell him I appreciate it."
Boykin has played well, and his development during the preseason gave the Eagles enough confidence to play him in an important spot in the defense. Still, opposing receivers caught nine of the 13 passes thrown Boykin's way in the last two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus, and averaged 12.3 yards per catch.
Boykin assuredly will be tested by wide receivers who apparently think they can feast on him, and an offense that relies on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's arm.
The image of the tough, rugged Steelers must be modernized, because this edition is averaging 284.3 passing yards per game and only 65 rushing yards in its first three games. Brown, Mike Wallace, and Emmanuel Sanders have developed into reliable targets for Roethlisberger, who willfully holds the ball and takes hits to extend plays and allow his receivers to get open. He has been among the top three in quarterbacks sacked in four of the last five years, and the offensive line is not the only reason.
When Eagles defensive end Trent Cole played college football at Cincinnati, he annually faced Roethlisberger at Miami of Ohio and remembered Roethlisberger's playing the same style.
"He'd sit in that pocket and he would not move until you got right to him," said Cole, who praised the Steelers quarterback. "He's like a boxer in the pocket with a football in the hand. I remember in college, I'd come around the corner, I'd come right to him, and he'd jump out of the way at the last minute."
Castillo said the Eagles worked on "scramble rules" during Thursday morning's walk-through and specifically looked at what Roethlisberger did in the Eagles' preseason opener as an example of how the quarterback accepts pressure and can escape it.
"It's hard with temptation that when you see the quarterback running to the line of scrimmage, it's easy to come off of the wide receivers," Castillo said. "You cannot come off the wide receiver until the quarterback crosses the line of scrimmage. And then you avoid big plays. He may scramble, and he may get 8 or 9 or 5 or 10 [yards], but if you come off your guy, that could be a touchdown."
This message must be understood by Boykin. Roethlisberger has thrown 26 short, middle-of-the-field passes this season and completed 88.5 percent for an average gain of 10.27 yards - both league highs. After the Steelers identified Boykin as the "candy bar" in the Eagles' secondary, Boykin said his response would come on the field. Expect him to have frequent chances.
"It's up to me to do what I've got to do to make sure they don't treat me like a candy bar - or whatever they said," Boykin said.