Corey Graham came to Baltimore hoping to play more cornerback, and with the injuries in the Ravens secondary, he certainly has gotten his wish.
Now Graham prepares for one of his biggest challenges to date, squaring off against future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who brings the surging Denver Broncos to Baltimore on Sunday.
"Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning," Graham said. "He can pretty much do everything, make every throw. He's got a great group of guys around him that's making a lot of plays for him. He's putting the ball where it needs to be, and we gotta find a way to go out there and counteract that."
Graham, signed in the off-season primarily as a special teams ace after five seasons with the Bears, said when he signed that he hoped to play cornerback as well. He was a special teamer and nickel back to begin the season, but with injuries to Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, Graham has stepped in to a starting job the past five games. He started only one game over the previous three seasons in Chicago.
"Corey's doing a great job for our defense," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "I think everyone has now come to realize that one of the top special teams players in the league is a top special teams player for a reason. ... He's a tremendous athlete. He can go out there and compete against the best wide receivers in the National Football League and play corner at a very high level."
Smith has been out for the past five games after undergoing sports hernia surgery, but he was a full participant at practice on Wednesday for the first time since his surgery. Before his injury, Smith started over Graham, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees was not ready to declare Smith the starter yet.
"You gotta go out there and you gotta see what he can do," Pees said.
Graham, Smith, Cary Williams and the rest of the Ravens secondary face a huge test with Manning and a passing attack ranked No. 6 in the league. Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 229 pounds) ranks fifth in the league with 1,197 receiving yards, and Eric Decker has 64 catches -- more than any Raven -- for 790 yards. Former Raven Brandon Stokley is still going strong in his 14th season. Tight ends have always been a popular target of Manning's (think Dallas Clark), and Jacob Tamme (49) and Joel Dreesen (34) have 83 catches between them.
In short, Manning has plenty of options, and he's likely to use all of them.
"They got a group of big, physical guys," Graham said. "They're real physical, they push guys around, they create separation, they make plays for them. ... They find a way to get it done and make plays, and that's what we gotta do."