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Brandon Boykin open to Steelers return despite playing-time issues

Free-agent cornerback Brandon Boykin, who’s spending the early part of the offseason training at a boxing gym in the Atlanta area, said he’s open to a return to the Pittsburgh Steelers despite a rough first four months with the organization.

Boykin is Pro Football Focus’ 10th-ranked free-agent cornerback. He recorded six interceptions with the Eagles in 2013. But after the Steelers traded a fifth-round pick for him on Aug. 1, they kept him on the bench for 12 games, relegated to special teams duty.

He finally broke the lineup in Week 13 and acquitted himself well with 1 interception, 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and 1 sack. He finished the year playing 24.7 percent of the defensive snaps, ranking seventh among Steelers in the defensive backfield, which struggled at times in 2015. Russell Wilson's five-touchdown performance in a Week 12 Steelers loss finally prompted coach Mike Tomlin to shuffle the lineup.

Boykin said he didn’t know why he sat out and didn’t want to cause any commotion, so he kept his head down until he got a chance. Overall, his experience in Pittsburgh was a positive one.

“At the end, the organization said they appreciated how I went about it, being a pro, not really talking about it,” Boykin said. “I don’t have any hard feelings toward Pittsburgh. Absolutely, under the right circumstances, for sure [I’d return].”

Boykin said he had a good rapport with teammates and enjoyed being in a locker room with a “championship swagger” that prioritizes game preparation above all else. It’s a calm locker room where “nobody’s really worried,” Boykin said, just confident.

Politics could have affected Boykin’s benching. The Steelers are loyal to William Gay, who played on the outside and in the slot, depending on the package. To offset Gay’s 5-foot-10 frame on the outside, the team also played bigger corner Ross Cockrell. Boykin is 5-foot-10, so playing another small corner alongside Gay and 5-foot-9 Antwon Blake wasn't a preference.

Philadelphia’s draft pick in the trade was conditional, meaning it turned into a fourth-round selection if Boykin hit a snap-percentage threshold. Boykin did not hit that mark because of his low percentage.

Boykin said he preferred to focus on performing well in practice instead of why he wasn’t playing. He’s approaching free agency with an open mind.

“Just being open to whatever’s happening, just relaxing and living life with the fam,” Boykin said. “I’m confident that I’ve got some good tape out there, whoever wants to come.”

The Steelers have five free-agent defensive backs, so the position will be revamped regardless. Boykin is training at Title Boxing in Alpharetta, Georgia. The low-impact training keeps the body fresh, Boykin said.