Heading into this season, there was a lot of talk about how deep the Ravens secondary would be, with starters Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams returning and first-round draft pick Jimmy Smith competing to take a job as well.
Second-year cornerback Chykie Brown was rarely, if ever, in the discussion. But Brown has emerged as the Ravens' top nickel back in a season in which both Webb and Smith have been sidelined for long stretches by injuries.
Brown finished the regular season with 14 tackles on defense and 11 on special teams, which was his ticket onto the roster each of the past two seasons. But after Webb (knee) and Smith (sports hernia) went down, Brown was one of the next men up. Corey Graham took over as a starting corner, and Brown emerged as a regular nickel back after Chris Johnson, a midseason pickup, also went down with a hamstring injury. Johnson, who made his only start the last time the Ravens faced Denver, was inactive against the Colts, adding to Brown's workload.
"Coaches believed in me, my teammates believed in me," Brown said. "It was just me having to step up and show them what they drafted."
Brown, a fifth-round pick in 2011 out of Texas, had his best game against the Giants in December, breaking up four passes and recording a total of four tackles. In the playoff win over the Colts this past week, Brown made four tackles, and used every bit of his 5-11, 190-pound frame to deliver a punishing hit on Reggie Wayne along the sideline.
"I saw him come out to the flat, and I saw the quarterback eyeing him down the whole time," Brown said. "I just kind of slowly came off my man, and once he caught the ball, he didn't see me. Once he turned up, that's when I was there."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on Monday that as they were leaving the field after the win over the Colts, Brown told Harbaugh, "I’m growing up, Coach. I’m growing up."
"And he is," Harbaugh said. " He’s playing technique. He’s playing good, solid technique. His eyes are in the right place."
They will need to be again this week against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
"I’m quite sure that Peyton [Manning] is going to try to double-move our guys – especially guys like Chykie, the young guys," Harbaugh said. "And we’re just going to have to play good, solid technique against that. We’re more equipped to do that now than we’ve ever been.”
Brown had one tackle against the Broncos last month, and said facing Manning again in the playoffs will be "a challenge. Every great player, and every player that wants to be great, looks for games like this. ... I'd love to make a play against Peyton Manning,"