Corey Graham came to Baltimore as a free agent in March 2012 because he believed he could do more than the Chicago Bears wanted him to do.
Graham, a Pro Bowl special teams performer, was looking for a chance to play cornerback - something at which he excelled when given the opportunity as a Bear. But since 2008, when he finished with a career-high 93 tackles and six passes defended, he has mostly been held off of defense. He racked up a career-high three interceptions last year, but did so without making a start at corner.
When the Ravens had cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (knee) and Jimmy Smith (hernia) go down, Graham was needed in the secondary and showed how good he could be.
Graham recorded 60 tackles, a career-high eight passes defended, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 16 regular season games (eight starts). He had 15 tackles, five passes defended and two interceptions in the Ravens’ two playoff games. Both picks came in Saturday’s upset of the Broncos - one was returned for a touchdown and the other set up the winning field goal.
Graham was always hoping for a chance to show what he has defensively in his first year with Baltimore after previously being pigeonholed as a special-teamer.
“When you are good at something, it is tough,” Graham said. “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, it is tough to get that label off of you no matter what you do. (Former Bears coach) 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. That was what he wanted from me, and that was my role in Chicago. So I went out there and tried to be the best special-teamer I could be. I was fortunate last year to have the opportunity to play in a few games and make a few plays, and I knew that I was capable of making plays once I saw it. I was able to get three interceptions in three consecutive games, so I knew I was capable of playing at this level on defense, so I was just looking for an opportunity somewhere.”
Graham knew coming to the Ravens was the right move before he made the decision.
“I knew from the beginning, before I signed here, before I talked to (head coach John Harbaugh), I knew that it was a place that if you showed what you can do and if you showed us that you deserve to be out there, you will be out there,” Graham said. “It wasn’t really getting out on the field that made me realize it. I knew it from the meeting, previous situations. Brendon Ayanbadejo, for example, I played with him in Chicago. He came here from Chicago, and in Chicago there was no way he was going touch the field on defense. There was no way. 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, and I knew when I sat down to talk to coach that he would give me that chance. That’s all you can ask for.”
But what did Harbaugh see that made him so sure Graham could be a quality addition to the defense?
“Corey is just a great football player, and that’s the thing,” Harbaugh said. “When you see guys play well on tape, whatever they’re doing, if they do it well, you’ve got a football player. So we started with that. He’s got very good ball skills. He’s got very good feet. He’s got tremendous understanding of the game. He understands the coverages and things like that, good body control. So he’s got all the things that make for a good defensive back.”
Graham described himself as “a little bit of everything” as a corner.
“I recognize routes really well. I like to think I am physical. I can tackle really well,” Graham said. “You can always get better with other things. But I am a pretty savvy corner, I would say.”
He’s just happy he’s getting this chance.
“It means a lot. When I signed here, it was one of my intentions,” Graham said. “I wanted to go somewhere where I would have the chance to play. To have this opportunity to come here and play and do well, it means a lot. You feel like you are showing everyone what you can do, and that is all you can ask for is the opportunity, and that is what I wanted, and I am just happy I am getting it.”