Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Last impressions before Eagles-Steelers

Brandon Boykin lights up when he thinks about Thursday night's preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. As the Eagles' first-team kickoff returner, it's possible he'll be the first Eagle to touch the ball in 2012.

Last impressions before Eagles-Steelers

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"I´m so excited for my first game, and to be the starting kick returner," Brandon Boykin said. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
"I'm so excited for my first game, and to be the starting kick returner," Brandon Boykin said. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Brandon Boykin lights up when he thinks about Thursday night's preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. As the Eagles' first-team kickoff returner, it's possible he'll be the first Eagle to touch the ball in 2012.

"I'm so excited for my first game, and to be the starting kick returner," said Boykin. "I definitely want to start it off in an exciting way."

Boykin hopes to carry over his collegiate success to a team that has had very little kickoff return success recently.

The Eagles have returned only one kickoff for a touchdown in the last 10 seasons, a 100-yarder by Quintin Demps in 2008. Before that, it was Brian Mitchell in 2001.

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Boykin, on the other hand, had four kickoff returns for touchdown during his Georgia career, which ties him for the career Southeastern Conference record with NFL stars Willie Gault (Tennessee) and Felix Jones (Arkansas). Three of his touchdowns went for 100 yards.

"There's no secret plan for kickoff returners," Boykin said. "You have to have the ability and natural vision, and the coaches trust me with that. Then I just trust my blockers and go from there."

Who's hot, who's not

The Eagles are off Tuesday and with the conclusion of Monday's afternoon practice, the Eagles won't do anything more than a light walk-through Wednesday before their preseason opener Thursday against Pittsburgh. Here's who stood out in the final day of live action, which was tamer than past days since there was no tackling during drills.

* Kurt Coleman twice picked off Michael Vick on throws across the middle, and has looked impressive throughout camp. If Coleman can improve his consistency from last season, the Eagles secondary will be a huge strength--especially with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha playing like Pro Bowl-caliber corners.

* Darryl Tapp and Derek Landri each jumped off-sides in a span of four plays. Players on the defensive line have been off-sides throughout camp; improved discipline there is a must.

* It's hard to see who the Eagles will cut at running back. LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis look season-ready right now, and third- and fourth-teamers Bryce Brown and Chris Polk have been making head-turning plays all camp. Monday, Polk sent defensive back Brandon Hughes airborne with a block on a blitz pickup.

* The first four wide receivers on the Eagles just-released depth chart are DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, and Jason Avant. Chad Hall and Marvin McNutt are listed on the third team. But at Monday's practice, with Cooper still out and Maclin an early departure because of cramps, Hall and fourth-teamer Damaris Johnson sure seemed to be getting much more action than McNutt. Johnson is the first-team punt returner and backup kick returner--good credentials to have in a crowded wide receiver field. Mardy Gilyard is fourth-team and went on to drop a sure touchdown during drills.

* Keenan Clayton is third-team weakside linebacker--not good to be the seventh backer on a team likely to keep six. He hasn't stood out much this camp.

* Rookie free agent Cliff Harris, who had a buzz about him early in camp, is listed as the fourth-team cornerback, and fourth-team punt returner behind Johnson, Hall, and Boykin. Barring injuries or an unexpectedly sudden increase in playing time at practice, it doesn't seem likely he'll have much if any impact this season.

* Mychal Kendricks is the only rookie in the starting lineup, but, at this point, it appears all nine draft picks appear safe bets to make the team. Sixth-round right guard Brandon Washington is listed on the third team, behind starter Danny Watkins and backup Mike Gibson.

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