GREEN BAY – The conversation, at Jarrett Boykin’s insistence, had to be held around the corner, in an alcove of the Green Bay Packers’ locker room near the exit. The last thing the third-year wide receiver wanted to do was draw a crowd.
Not that he felt he’d done anything in training camp that would warrant such attention anyway. He just didn’t want to risk it.
In fact, at a position known for its prima donnas and attention-loving media darlings, there’s only one reason Boykin agreed to an interview in the first place.
“You get fined for not doing them,” he said with a slight smirk.
It’s not that Boykin is antisocial. He’s smart and engaging when he does talk. He simply doesn’t want or need the attention.
“You’re not all bad, but it’s just, I don’t know. That’s just how I carry myself,” Boykin said. “You guys can write the articles, you can tell the stories, but at the end of the day, I’m the one who has to go out there and prove what I’ve got to prove.”
It is that obsession with proving himself that has driven Boykin to be the Packers’ No. 3 receiver, behind recently minted $39 million man Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, and still ahead of the rest of the pack – including rookie second-round pick Davante Adams – entering the Packers’ preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
“Clearly he’s taken the next step. I just love the way he plays,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday. “He’s physical, his toughness, he’s relentless. I think he’s exceptional at the top of his route. You see his strength and balance to separate from a DB. I think he’s had an excellent camp.”
Multiple times in training camp, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has expressed concern about where some younger players are within the offense as the Sept. 4 regular-season opener at defending Super Bowl-champion Seattle approaches.
Last week, Rodgers said of his young wide receivers and tight ends, “If you cannot line up right, if you can’t get the checks and if you can’t get what you’re supposed to do every time – then there’s no way you can possibly be on the field when I’m out there.”
Then, on Monday, Rodgers was at it again.
“You know what? They need to catch up,” Rodgers told a large group of reporters at his locker. “I think some of them are playing the right way, and some of them have got to catch up. They’re going to need to if they want to be on the field.”
One person Rodgers hasn’t felt that way about is Boykin, a self-made player who played only 10 total snaps in the first four games of last season – he didn’t play a single snap on offense in the opener and one snap against Washington in Week 2 – and hadn’t caught a single pass until Cobb’s leg injury at Baltimore on Oct. 13. After a 43-yard catch against the Ravens that day, Boykin went on to finish with 49 receptions for 681 yards and three touchdowns last season.
“The biggest thing that helped Jarrett is that he became an expert of our offense,” Rodgers explained. “And he spent a lot of time studying our offense, getting in my ear, wanting to hear what he needed to do to get on the field, what I expected of him in certain situations and certain route concepts. And if you’re consistently in the right place at the right time, you can’t help but make plays. The ball is going to find you.
“We throw to the open guy in this offense, we go through our progressions. We don’t lock in on one person. And if you’re consistently doing the right thing, running the right route at the proper depth, you can’t help but make plays. And that’s what happened with Jarrett. The more plays you make, the more confidence you’re going to have and that’s when you’re going to see guys reach and times exceed their potential.”
Boykin would argue that he still hasn’t reached his. He didn’t need the Packers to draft three wide receivers – Adams, Jared Abbrederis (fifth) and Jeff Janis (seventh) – to keep him from getting complacent.
Despite leaving Virginia Tech as the school’s all-time leading receiver, the 6-foot-2, 214-pound Boykin went undrafted coming out of college – largely because of a less-than-stellar 4.69-second 40-yard dash. He signed with Jacksonville after the 2012 NFL Draft ended, but after participating in the Jaguars’ three-day rookie camp, they cut him.
The Packers brought him to their rookie camp the following weekend, but only on a tryout basis. He did enough to earn a contract, then beat out two wide receivers in training camp who’d spent the previous season on the team’s practice squad and received large raises to stick around there when other teams came calling with offers of 53-man roster spots.
He only caught five passes for 27 yards as a rookie, but when Cobb and James Jones went down, Boykin stepped up. Now, with Jones having departed as a free agent for Oakland this offseason, he must step up again.
“Coming in the way I was brought in as a rookie, you still have that fresh in your mind. You never know when it could be that day, if you’re not taking care of your job and handling your business,” Boykin said. “I just carry that mindset with me every day – not necessarily that I’m going to get cut every day, but I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well, to be perfect and be great. If you have that attitude, then you have a chance.
“My whole mindset coming in this came was obviously continue to progress, get better and show that I know the system really well,” said Boykin, who has three receptions for 21 yards through three preseason games. “Consistency – that was my overall focus, to be consistent in everything I do, whether it be releases, route running, run blocking, everything.”
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.