ATHENS, Ga. - Brandon Boykin doesn't need the distraction, even if it's flattering.
This time last year, Boykin was dealing with the challenges of becoming a first-time starting cornerback at Georgia. The 5-foot-10, 183-pound junior from the Atlanta suburb of Fayetteville now is having to adjust to new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and the implementation of his 3-4 scheme.
Boykin is hoping to be as productive under Grantham as he was last season under Willie Martinez, and longtime NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper believes he will. Kiper has projected Boykin among the top five corners in the 2011 NFL draft, behind LSU junior Patrick Peterson, Texas junior Aaron Williams, Virginia senior Ras-I Dowling and Nebraska senior Prince Amukamara.
"It doesn't faze me at all," Boykin said of the looming NFL attention. "I know what I need to do this year. That's a long shot for me, to be honest, because I've still got a lot of learning to do. After my senior year, we'll see."
Praise has been swift but deserving for Boykin, who made six tackles in 13 games as a freshman in 2008, when he wore jersey No. 20. His first big break occurred when Asher Allen, a starting cornerback during the 2007-08 seasons, elected to bypass his senior year in January 2009.
Boykin not only became the top cornerback in the program but took Allen's No. 2 jersey as well.
"I didn't want to be compared to him, but I feel like I made it my own," he said.
It took Boykin two games to become recognized as one of the best and most exciting players on the roster. In last year's 41-37 win over South Carolina, he had four tackles and an interception, and he also had four kickoff returns for 187 yards.
The most notable of those returns was a 100-yard touchdown, a feat he duplicated a month later in an otherwise dismal loss to Tennessee. Boykin returned a third kickoff for a touchdown in the Independence Bowl win over Texas A&M, this one from 81 yards out, and he set single-season school records for returns (38), return yards (988) and return scores (three).
His defensive totals included 54 tackles, six pass deflections and three interceptions.
Odds and EndsThe Bulldogs worked out for 90 minutes Saturday morning before the afternoon Fan Day session, and they learned they had been ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll. ... Senior cornerback Vance Cuff has a dinged shoulder after colliding with junior tight end Bruce Figgins, who is 83 pounds heavier. ... Richt said he likes his secondary and its quality depth at each spot.
"I feel like I've gained a lot more experience, but at the same time I've had to learn a defense, and nobody is totally comfortable," Boykin said. "Having that experience of being on the field, you're a lot more relaxed. I'm not anxious to do anything that I'm not supposed to do."
There hasn't been a lot of talk about Boykin from coaches this month. As it turns out, not much has been needed.
"Boykin is practicing his tail off like he does every day," head coach Mark Richt said.
When Grantham employs five defensive backs in practice, Boykin often is the one who shifts from corner to the nickel position. Earlier this summer, he set a goal of 10 interceptions this season.
That aspiration is admittedly lofty, especially after former Tennessee safety Eric Berry corralled just two last year, and he was a top-five pick in the draft.
"I expect to, but I'm not 100 percent sure I'm going to get it," Boykin said. "It's just a goal to shoot for. If I get five or six - I just want to do anything I can to help us win."