Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Brandon Boykin has only been with the team for a short while, but it certainly hasn’t taken him long in order to make his presence felt. While he is not in the starting lineup, he did look like the best defensive back on the field for the team last night in the league’s preseason opener, the Hall of Fame game against the Vikings.
Boykin was only in on two plays during the game, but both were equally impressive. Early in the second quarter, on a third and three, Boykin came in on a cornerback blitz off the left side of the defense and got both hands up to deflect a Mike Kafka pass incomplete.
The Vikings’ kicker was wide right from 48 yards out on the next play. One Minnesota’s following possession, on second and eight, Kafka targeted his tight end, Mycole Pruitt, in the flat on a screen, but Boykin came up to make a sound open-field tackle on a player much larger than himself.
Really, those two plays encapsulate quite a bit what the Steelers are looking out of their corners, especially this season, as, according to practice indications and early showings during the game last night, the defense under Keith Butler this year is going to be giving its defensive backs an expanded role in blitz packages.
No matter what system they run, however, Mike Tomlin will always value cornerbacks who can come up and make the tackle, as we say William Gay do earlier in the game. Boykin has the capacity to be a younger, more talented Gay, and that is a strong compliment.
And it is worth remembering that he has only been with the Steelers for a short period of time after Pittsburgh made a trade for him about a week and a half ago, giving up a conditional fifth-round draft pick to do so.
The Steelers are still feeling him out as a player and determining how, ultimately, they will want to use him. They have played him on both the left and right outside spots as well as in the slot during practice, and he also moved around during the game.
Pittsburgh values cornerbacks who have that type of versatility, and Boykin has already shown himself to have that, in addition to having the ability to adapt quickly under a new defensive system.
Even from just watching how he carried himself on the field, I couldn’t help but get the sense that Boykin was satisfied with his new environment, recognizing that he may have an opportunity to thrive with the Steelers in this system, and with an organization that doesn’t overvalue height-weight-speed versus sheer football players.
Last night was a good start to his Steelers career, where many, naturally, are hoping that he makes a name for himself. There are those who believe that he was instantly the team’s best cornerback, and his first glimpse of game action did nothing to dissuade us of that notion. There is a long road to travel ahead, but it’s easy to feel encouraged about the upcoming journey.