Rising Boykin Stays in Rodgers' 'Hip Pocket'

Jarrett Boykin a forgotten man at the start of the season, has become a key part of the passing game. Aaron Rodgers has noticed Boykin's diligence and rising confidence.

Jarrett Boykin had a strong preseason, only to get one of the best seats in the house once the regular season began.

With coach Mike McCarthy relying heavily on his "Big Three" receiver corps of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones, Boykin played in all of four snaps in the first three games and 10 snaps in the first four.

Boykin got his chance against Baltimore, when Jones was lost on the opening series, but stumbled badly. Without Cobb and Jones the last two weeks, Boykin has stepped up in a big way. Against Cleveland and Minnesota, Boykin has caught 13 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown.

"Since he got here, he's been kind of in my hip pocket, per se," quarterback Aaron Rodgers told Bears reporters during a conference call on Thursday. "He's wanted to have meetings after practice and wants to be on the same page with the checks and understand how he can run his routes to be open on time. For him, it was just about confidence (and) going on the field and making the plays he's been making in practice.

"Because we've seen it, especially this offseason, this training camp, he's been making a lot of plays and then we start the season and he barely sees the field the first four or five games. Now the last couple, he's really taken off and I'm proud of him. It's tough to do that — to sit for four games and the fifth game, we have some injuries and he has big games for us. I'm really proud of him. He really cares about it and you have to appreciate that as a quarterback."

Boykin caught just 1-of-5 passes against Baltimore, though it was a 43-yard catch-and-run in which he broke three tackles. Against Cleveland, Rodgers made sure he got Boykin involved early and often. Five of Rodgers' first nine passes went to Boykin to get him going.

"He's making sure he's getting people involved," backup quarterback Seneca Wallace said, "just like the thing he did with Boykin Just getting him involved in the game early, kind of like a basketball player, you get some shots up and get the ball early in the game. He got his confidence level up and he played well the rest of the game. As a quarterback, you've got to get guys in the right place and show that you have a lot of confidence in them."

Boykin has that confidence now. In this last two games, he's caught 13-of-15 passes, including excellent catches on balls thrown high (at the sideline against Cleveland) and low (at Minnesota). According to ProFootballFocus.com, his season total of 235 yards includes 107 after the catch. He's gotten past five would-be tacklers. In catching five passes as an undrafted rookie last year, Boykin had 7 yards after the catch and forced one missed tackle.

His play leads to a couple of obvious questions. One, how was Boykin — the all-time leader in catches and yards at Virginia Tech — deemed not good enough to be among the 29 receivers drafted in 2012? And two, how was Boykin deemed not good enough by Jacksonville, which cut him after its rookie camp in 2012?

One reason is speed. Boykin ran a 4.58 in the 40 at the Scouting Combine. But at 6-foot-2 and with huge hands, he is an inviting target, as Rodgers has learned.

"I won't really comment on the speed part, I just know this with that kid — he creates separation," receivers coach Edgar Bennett said last week. "He's fundamentally sound as a route runner. As far as, OK, not being one of those guys they write down saying they run a 4.3 and all of that, I know a lot of guys that are running 4.3 but don't really know how to run routes. And I think this kid will continue to improve. That's always the goal — to be fundamentally sound and create even more separation, so that he can make the most of the opportunities that he's getting."

Boykin's next challenge comes on Monday night against Chicago. Bears cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are by far the best duo in the league at forcing turnovers. Tillman, who is far and away the active leader among NFL defensive backs with 41 career forced fumbles, poked the ball away from Jones twice in a game in 2007. Jermichael Finley and James Starks also have been stripped by Tillman.

"They've got to learn from that," Bennett said on Friday. "You turn the tape on and you see guys doing it the right away, being fundamentally sound as far as how they're carrying the football, being smart in certain situations with the football, and we've got to apply that knowledge and put it to good use, and if we do that, then we'll have some success in that area."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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