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Boykin hopes to jump-start Eagles' return game

Of all the Eagles rookies, Brandon Boykin may have the greatest opportunity to make an immediate impact this season.

Fourth-round draft pick Brandon Boykin will compete with Joselio Hanson for a roster spot. (John Amis/AP file photo)
Fourth-round draft pick Brandon Boykin will compete with Joselio Hanson for a roster spot. (John Amis/AP file photo)Read more

Of all the Eagles rookies, Brandon Boykin may have the greatest opportunity to make an immediate impact this season.

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the Eagles' top pick and the 12th overall in last month's draft, is expected to contribute right away. But he'll likely play only a select number of snaps as part of a rotation, and rookie defensive linemen often need time to make the transition to the NFL.

The same theory applies to defensive end Vinny Curry, who was chosen in the second round. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks, also taken in the second round, will compete for the strong-side starting position. But he has to supplant Jamar Chaney first.

Boykin will face his own competition at nickel cornerback from veteran Joselio Hanson - the long-time occupier of that spot. There are other candidates, but the Eagles are high on the Boykin, the team's fourth-round pick.

If he were to win the nickel corner role - a position of increasing importance in the pass-happy NFL - that alone would put the spotlight on Boykin. But the Eagles didn't draft the Georgia product for his defensive skills alone. They also saw a multipurpose player who could possibly cure their woes in the return game.

Asked on Friday if the kick- return job was his, Boykin said, "I definitely want it to."

That may seem like a premature question. Boykin, after all, was just arriving at the NovaCare Complex for the first time in preparation for the start of rookie minicamp Saturday. But the Eagles really haven't found an answer at that spot for a number of years.

Last season, Dion Lewis was the latest to underwhelm.

All that being said, Boykin's readiness - or that of any rookie - is pure speculation until Eagles coaches get their new charges on the field. Boykin admitted as much.

"I think I'm confident in myself, confident in my abilities," he said. "I know that it's going to be a learning curve as a rookie,. It's going to be a process. I think that's something that I kind of want to see myself - how quick can I learn, how long is it going to take me to learn how to be a pro, act like a pro."

For the first time in two years the Eagles were able to hold rookie arrival day, when the first-timers show up for physicals and receive their uniforms and locker stall assignments. The lockout canceled all minicamps last year, and 2011 rookies showed up at training camp already behind the eight ball.

Cox, like many of this year's rookies, arrived brimming with optimism.

"I'm going to ask a lot of questions. That's the only way I know," Cox said. "They'll probably get tired of me, but I'll keep asking questions, and I'll go from person to person."

For the most part, he'll have only his coaches to ask. Eagles veterans won't practice with the rookies until May 22. The Eagles still managed to scrape together a 45-man roster for this weekend's minicamp.

There are the team's nine draft picks - seven of whom are already signed to contracts. Boykin, guard Brandon Washington, and running back Bryce Brown were the latest to sign four-year deals, on Friday. Only Cox and third-round quarterback Nick Foles remained unsigned.

There are the 15 undrafted free agents the Eagles have signed in the last two weeks, including Miami (Fla.) quarterback Jacory Harris, who signed Friday. There are the seven practice squad players from last season who did not play during the regular season. And there are the 12 non-roster rookies who were invited for tryouts but more specifically to give the Eagles camp bodies. They include Penn State saftey Drew Astorino, Temple cornerback Kee-Ayre Griffin, and Fairleigh Dickinson kicker Michael Barnard, from Rancocas Valley High.

Boykin is more than just a body. The Eagles scooped the 5-foot-9, 182-pound cornerback up in the fourth round, but some analysts considered him a second-round talent. A broken leg during the Senior Bowl may have hurt his stock. He said the leg is near healed.

"I definitely plan on being out there tomorrow," Boykin said.

He'll be wearing No. 22, Asante Samuel's old number. The Pro Bowl cornerback was traded to Atlanta a day before the draft.

Boykin was a playmaker at Georgia. He won the 2011 Paul Hornung Award given to the most versatile player in college football. He played cornerback, kick returner, punt returner, running back, Wildcat, and as a cover man on special teams.

He made his mark at Georgia as a return man, though, setting school records in kickoff returns (110), yards (2,663), and touchdowns (four). Asked what makes a good returner, Boykin answered, "Confidence. Bravery."

"First of all you have to confidence in yourself," he added, "because all eyes are on you once you get that ball."