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Steelers spent fifth-round pick on a cornerback they refuse to play

PITTSBURGH -- The Brandon Boykin mystery continues.

When the Steelers traded a conditional fifth-round pick to the Eagles for the rights to Boykin, the move presumably solved a need at cornerback.

But Boykin has played one defensive snap -- one! -- in the last three weeks. He's logged less than 20 snaps the entire year.

This trend likely isn't changing any time soon.

Two years removed from a six-interception season, Boykin has no immediate chances to build on that number.

"I’m not going to say anything negative. I just feel in my heart things will turn around," Boykin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently.

After asking around, there are a few reasons I believe Boykin is still on the sideline. It's largely circumstantial, not based on a deficiency in Boykin's play.

Steelers' loyalty: William Gay and Antwon Blake are tried-and-true Steelers who have been fixtures in the Pittsburgh defense for the last three years. Steelers value loyalty and player development enough to let Troy Polamalu hang on a few years past his prime. These players are effort guys, good in the locker room. When it came down to decision-making time after camp, the Steelers felt these two hadn't lost their jobs, even though Boykin showed progress grasping the Steelers' system and playmaking ability. Blake played well late last season.

Size differential: The Steelers could have moved Gay to the outside while playing Boykin in the slot. By choosing to keep Gay mostly in the slot, that leaves Blake at 5-foot-9 on the outside and the other outside spot, which goes to bigger cornerbacks such as the 6-foot Ross Cockrell or 6-1 Cortez Allen, who is returning from injury. It's hard to play Blake and 5-foot-10 Boykin as bookend corners against bigger receivers every week. If Boykin plays, the combination almost has to be Gay-Boykin-Allen or Gay-Boykin-Cockrell.

Steelers have momentum defensively: The Steelers' secondary was the biggest question mark of the offseason, and though it ranks 20th in pass defense, it's held up reasonably well against expectations. The Steelers ranking fourth in sacks with 16.0 has helped alleviate pressure on this unit. And the Steelers rank tied for seventh in scoring defense at 19.0 points per game, with 42 of those 95 overall points coming off tight end touchdown catches (three by Rob Gronkowski, two by Antonio Gates). If the Steelers could figure out how to cover elite tight ends in the red zone, they'd be in great shape. But tight end matchups aren't necessarily a corner problem, more a safety or linebacker issue. Meanwhile, the Steelers have given up three receiver touchdown catches through five games, which is pretty good. The Steelers won't make any sweeping changes to a unit that's found a rhythm unless that rhythm breaks.