Corey Graham’s best season came in his second with the Chicago Bears, when he started nine games.
After five years there under coach Lovie Smith, the cornerback was brought in by the Ravens to play a supporting role. No one, except Graham, was certain how he would blossom in Baltimore.
"When you are good at something, it is tough. For my rookie year, I was put into special teams and I feel like I did well at it. So it's tough when you get the label of a special-teamer," Graham said Wednesday. "It is tough to get that label off of you no matter what you do.
"Lovie Smith, he loved what I did as a special-teamer, and that is what he wanted from me no matter what. So I could go out at practice and get six interceptions at corner but no matter what in the meeting, I was going to be Corey Graham, special-teamer. That is just how it was."
Injuries to the secondary, however, thrust him into a more significant role with the Ravens. Graham is quickly becoming the play-maker the defense lost in Week 6 when Lardarius Webb tore a knee ligament. Jimmy Smith, who was supposed to replace Webb, went down with hernia surgery and although he has returned he hasn't returned to form.
That opened the door for Graham.
“There wasn't as much to look at, because he hadn't played that many snaps on defense in Chicago,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “But, the thing that was interesting about Corey, is when he did play on defense, he played really well. So we felt like he was going to be a contributor on defense. But the way we do it with all of our guys is we’re about competition. … It’s hard to go by reputation in this sport. You’d get exposed so quickly.
“Corey knew that if he came in here and he earned the playing time, he would get it. And that’s what’s happened.”
Graham intercepted Peyton Manning twice, including in the second overtime of a 38-35 upset in last weekend’s divisional playoff game. His first pick came in the first quarter off a deflection. Graham took it 39 yards for his first TD as he gave the Ravens a 14-7 lead.
He also had 2 interceptions during the regular season, one in each meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, a noted special-teams player, spent three seasons with the Bears. He played with Graham during his 2007 rookie season.
"He came here from Chicago, and in Chicago there was no way he was going to touch the field on defense. There was no way," Graham said. "Then he comes here, and I am watching games, and I am seeing him out there playing. It is like, 'Wow. He is getting a chance.' That is all you want as a player is a chance to play. I knew when I sat down to talk to coach (Harbaugh) that he would give me that chance. That's all you can ask for."