Gap Narrowing Between Hanson, Boykin

Eagles cornerback Brandon BoykinWith 18 days left until the Eagles open their season in Cleveland against the Browns, competition for the first-team nickel corner job appears to be heating up.

Rookie Brandon Boykin replaced Joselio Hanson in the second quarter of Monday night’s preseason game against the Patriots. Hanson got the start and rotated back in after halftime.

In terms of performance, Hanson gave up a couple completions to Julian Edelman, and Boykin was not targeted.

Asked if he’d hesitate to play a rookie in the nickel spot, Andy Reid today said no.

“I think you play the best guy is what you do,” he said. “You make it as simple as you possibly can in your evaluation, say whoever’s playing the best will play at that position. That’s a close competition there.  Those guys are going after it. I thought both of them actually did some good things in the game, so we’ll just leave that as an open competition.”

Monday was the first time all summer Boykin has mixed in with the ones. Earlier at training camp, Reid and some other Eagles players talked about how well Hanson knew the defense and how hard it would be to unseat him. So, what’s changed?

“The obvious is that Boykin’s learning and getting better everyday, so that gap’s narrowed,” Reid said.

According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, the Eagles played nickel about 47 percent of the time last season.

“It’s a very important part of the defense,” Boykin said. “Slot receivers are probably some of the best players on the teams on each offense, so having somebody that can guard and tackle and be quick enough to guard each way is pivotal in the game. And I think more and more, we’re seeing how important they are.”

Hanson turned 31 earlier this month, and the Eagles cut him last summer, before eventually signing him again. The veteran did not have an especially strong 2011 if you look at charting numbers.

Boykin, who is also the team’s No. 1 kickoff returner, played inside in college at Georgia. As of this morning, he hasn’t been told about any shake-ups in terms of the depth chart, but chances are, he’ll rotate in with the ones again on Friday.

“I’m not really sure yet. We haven’t even went over it yet,” he said. “With this short week, we’ve got like a day or two of practice and we’re hitting the field, so I think everybody will probably be mixing in.”

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