Baltimore Ravens cornerback Corey Graham spent the first five seasons of his NFL career playing special teams with the Chicago Bears. Last Saturday, he proved that he can be incredibly valuable in areas other than kickoff and kick return.
Graham intercepted two Peyton Manning passes in Baltimore’s playoff win over the Denver Broncos, helping send the Ravens to their second AFC Championship in as many years. Injuries like the one to starting cornerback Lardarius Webb have given Graham a chance to contribute — something he says former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith was never willing to provide.
“Lovie Smith, he loved what I did as a special teamer and that’s what he wanted from me, no matter what,” Graham told USA Today. “So I could go out and practice, get six interceptions at corner, but no matter what I was going to be Corey Graham, special teamer. That’s just how it was. That’s what he wanted from me, so I went out there and tried to be the best special-teamer I could possibly be.”
Baltimore linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, also a former Bear, started three games for the Ravens this season following injuries to Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe. Graham insists Smith would never have given Ayanbadejo a chance to play on defense in Chicago.
“In Chicago there was no way (Ayanbadejo) was going to touch the field on defense,” he explained. “There’s no way. Then I come here and I’m watching games and I’m seeing him out there playing and I’m like, ‘Wow, he’s getting a chance.’ And that’s all you want as a player, is a chance to play.”
Ayanbadejo gave up his starting position when Lewis returned. The important thing to remember is that Graham and Ayanbadejo have been given a chance to contribute because of injuries to other players. Did Smith not trust them, or did he simply not need the depth in the way that the Ravens have needed it this season? Whatever the case, Graham is clearly confident that he is a viable starting NFL corner. Baltimore will need that confidence when they head to Gillette Stadium this weekend.