GREEN BAY – Edgar Bennett loved the story. Loved it.
Back when he was a player, Bennett had little use for interviews or drawing attention to himself, so when the Green Bay Packers wide receivers coach heard what Jarrett Boykin had done on Sunday, he liked his pupil that much more.
Boykin had just caught eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown to help his injury-depleted team to a crucial home victory over Cleveland, but it never dawned on him that such a performance in his first NFL start – with fellow wide receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones sidelined by injury – might be considered newsworthy. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson and public relations coordinator Jonathan Butnick had to convince him to stick around for what would turn out to be an extended Q&A session at his locker with a throng of reporters enveloping him.
To Boykin, he’d simply done his job – just as any other “next man up” player on the roster would have done. No big deal.
“I think it speaks toward the character of the man,” Bennett said. “If you have a player truly say, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about the team,’ then he would be one of the guys who’d be, as they say, the poster child of that campaign. It is – it’s about the team.
“I cannot stress enough, I love that quality about him. He’s humble. You’ve seen guys where they go out and have success and it goes to their head.”
We’ll let you guess if Bennett was talking about anyone in particular there, because this is about Boykin, who during a six-minute one-on-one interview Thursday – as he stood in an out-of-the-way corner of the locker room – still didn’t seem especially interested in talking about himself.
Asked about his aborted quick getaway – and whether he might try one again after he makes his second straight start Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome – Boykin simply smiled.
“I’m just used to taking off and just going. I didn’t know I had to stay,” said Boykin, who used to try the same thing in college at Virginia Tech – even though he left there as the school’s all-time leader in receptions (184) and receiving yards (2,884).“I don’t really like giving interviews. I don’t really like to draw too much attention.”
It’s too late for that, as Boykin’s play certainly has gotten the Vikings’ attention in their preparation.
“Last week, not a whole lot of people knew about him. Now, they do,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday. “He has to overcome that challenge of people now that have film on him, how are they going to play him and how are they going to game-plan (him)? That’s all part of being successful in this league.”
While Boykin chuckled at the suggestion that the Vikings would be concerned about him – “I mean, I don’t necessarily think people are scheming for me or anything,” he said – there’s no doubt the Packers will be counting on him again this week.
With Cobb on injured reserve with the designation for return (the earliest he could play is Dec. 15 at Dallas) with a broken leg and Jones unlikely to play after sitting out practice again Thursday, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Boykin will start again Sunday night. And with tight end Jermichael Finley out after suffering a frightening neck injury that could end his season, the Packers will be relying on previously anonymous players like Boykin to deliver. In fact, Boykin was just telling his roommate, first-year tight end Brandon Bostick, that he’s next with Finley sidelined.
“Even in practice I give him a little, quick reminder: ‘It’s for real now. It’s go time. Let’s dial in and focus on what we need to do,’” Boykin said.
“I love his mindset,” Bennett said of Boykin. “Whenever we get to the point where we think we’ve got it all figured out or we’ve arrived, then it’s all downhill from there. … What you did last week – that doesn’t matter. What will you do this week? When you step on the field, they don’t care about what you did last week. Show what you’re capable of this week.”
As an undrafted rookie free agent last year, Boykin saw action in 10 games and played a whopping 96 snaps after making the roster as the No. 6 wide receiver by beating out two receivers – Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley – to whom the Packers had paid 53-man roster salaries to keep them on the practice squad the year before.
His biggest reception was a fourth-down catch against the Vikings in the regular-season finale that picked up a key first down, although he suffered an ankle injury on the play and missed the playoffs because of it.
With McCarthy using Cobb, Jones and Nelson almost exclusively in the team’s three-receiver sets, Boykin had played just 10 snaps through the first four games this season. Then at Baltimore on Oct. 13, Jones suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and Cobb was lost to a broken leg just before halftime. After a rocky start – he dropped the first two passes thrown his way – Boykin had a 43-yard catch-and-run that jump-started the Packers’ offense in the second half. In the past two weeks, he’s played more snaps (128) than he had in his career up to that point.
“From the first day he came here, you could see he belonged on the field,” said McCarthy, recalling that Boykin came as a tryout player to the 2012 post-draft rookie orientation camp – after being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars after just four days on their roster – and earned a contract with his play.
“Big hands, physical kid, would compete, really competed on special teams. So I liked that about him initially. I just think he has learned to relax a little bit and play. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He’s a very tough young man and I think you’re seeing the benefits of it now. I can’t say enough about his work, what he’s put into getting ready for his opportunity.”
And true to his personality, Boykin will simply keep working.
“I was excited about the things I was able to do out there and accomplish, but at the end of the day, it’s only one game. You can only live off something like that for so long,” Boykin said. “At this moment, you just take it one day at a time and don’t make the situation bigger than it really is. Just do what you need to do today – snap by snap, play by play.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.