There certainly seems to be some difference of opinion when it comes to just how quickly Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Brandon Boykin was ready to contribute to the team’s defensive packages—at least on a regular basis.
Admittedly, he played about a dozen snaps on defense as early as Week Two as the Steelers were looking to replace Cortez Allen in the lineup, but since then, he had largely rode the bench until Week 12, a week after the secondary was torched for five receiving touchdowns.
Since then, Boykin has been a steady presence over the course of the past four games, logging a majority of the snaps in each as the primary slot cornerback. He saw his most extensive playing time on Sunday against the Ravens, during which he played over 80 percent of the snaps.
If you ask defensive coordinator Keith Butler, in his first year at the job since being promoted from linebackers coach, he will tell the story of a player who grew in time to be comfortable enough in the system to contribute.
“It took him a little while to learn what we’re doing but he’s getting a good handle on it now”, he said recently. “He got the experience over the length of the season in terms of what we’re doing defensively”.
Boykin, of course, was behind the proverbial 8-ball in that regard, having only been acquired by the Steelers during training camp. But Ross Cockrell was only acquired at the end of the preseason, and he has spent the majority of the season as the primary outside cornerback in the nickel defense.
That is a quandary that the fan base has not been able to understand, and I’m sure that it has been a challenge for Boykin as well.
The fourth-year cornerback essentially defined this season as a growing experience, saying that he tries to “find the positive in everything”. For him, he added, “I learned a lot about myself, and just controlling what I can control. The way everything played out, when I got my opportunity I made the most of it. I’m just trying to capitalize on that every single game”.
In logging over 200 defensive snaps, mostly from the last four games, Boykin has registered on the season 21 tackles, an interception, a sack, and five passes defensed for the Steelers. He registered a career-high eight tackles on Sunday in addition to his second career sack.
The cornerback believes that he has shown well for himself since gaining playing time, saying, “I feel like I’ve been coming on strong these last couple games”. but he has the right mentality, adding that “none of that stuff is really important right now”, referencing the team’s postseason quandary, needing help to advance.
He didn’t spend much time celebrating his sack in the film room, either, since it came in a loss. “We have to go out and take care of business and all the stats and things like that will be more fun if we do what we’re supposed to do”. Whatever concerns that Boykin may have about how this season has gone has taken a back seat to higher priorities: winning, and getting into the playoffs.