Why isn’t Brandon Boykin playing more? There has been no question asked more frequently about the Pittsburgh Steelers this season than this, and for the longest time nobody on the coaching staff has been prepared to give much of a clear answer, leaving others such as ourselves to speculate how it’s all gotten broken down.
Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was recently posed that question, and he finally gave a clear and concise answer to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, though it did not exactly provide the revelation that many are looking for. The answer is in fact quite simple.
While Lake told Fowler that he is happy to have Boykin in his defensive backs room, the reason that he has not been on the field much is simply because the coaching staff believes in the three cornerbacks already on the field.
“Somebody else would have to be playing badly right now“, he said, in order for Boykin to get on the field right now. “I have faith and confidence that he can play…it’s just that we’re doing OK”.
Playing badly, or getting injured, that is. Boykin has come on the field a few different times this season as an injury replacement for Antwon Blake, who was a surprise move into the starting lineup just prior to the season opener, where Cortez Allen was expected to resume his starting role.
One would have thought that if there was a lineup change, it would have been to make room for the Steelers’ new addition, for whom they traded a fifth-round draft choice. And there was eventually a lineup change for a new addition, but that, too, came at Boykin’s expense.
On a signing made on the final roster cut down day, the Steelers added second-year cornerback Ross Cockrell to the 53-man roster, who at the same was presumed to be the sixth cornerback on the depth chart. He is now currently third, and the only one outside of Blake and William Gay trusted to play on the outside.
He is also the only cornerback on the roster taller than 5’10”, which helped him significantly in cracking the lineup, where he has been a consistent presence since Week Two following Allen’s injury in the opener.
But Cockrell’s ascension may not have ever happened were it not for Boykin’s own misfortune. The veteran slot corner was working with the starting unit in the nickel during the following week of practice when he suffered a groin injury.
He went on to miss most of the rest of the week of practice, and though he was given a couple of series, playing outside in place of Blake, as a matter of fact, those 11 snaps remains his most extensive playing time of the season.
The coaching staff is comfortable with where the secondary is right now, more specifically the cornerback position, where Gay, Blake, and Cockrell have manned nearly every available to them.
The fact that Boykin has not been able to play, for the coaches, says more about those playing in front of him than it does about his own performance, based on Lake’s comments. This is not the answer that most were looking for, but it is the answer that we have finally been given.