By Tim Graham
Baltimore Ravens fans must be thrilled that Corey Graham wasn't satisfied with being an all-star on special teams.
Graham, a Turner-Carroll High grad, established himself as a kick-coverage stalwart, going to the Pro Bowl last year for the Chicago Bears. He missed only three games in his first five seasons, but started only one game in the Bears' secondary over the past three seasons.
That wasn't good enough for him.
Graham signed with the Ravens a year ago because he wanted to play cornerback. Without him, they might not be playing the New England Patriots for the AFC championship on Sunday.
"I wanted to go somewhere where I would have the chance to play," Graham told reporters this week in Owings Mills, Md. "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."
Graham broke into the Ravens' lineup when left cornerback Lardarius Webb suffered a knee injury in October. Graham started the past 10 games, including both in the playoffs.
His postseason stat line: 15 tackles, half a sack, two interceptions, a touchdown and five pass breakups.
Both of his interceptions were of Peyton Manning in last week's playoff game in Denver. The first Graham returned for a touchdown. The second set up the winning field goal in double overtime.
Not bad for a fifth-round draft pick out of New Hampshire. Not bad for a guy with a handful of NFL career starts.
"I like to think I can do a little bit of everything," Graham said. "I recognize routes really well. I like to think I'm physical. I can tackle really well. You can always get better with other things. But I'm a pretty savvy corner, I would say."
Baltimore's coaching staff would agree.
"Corey is just a great football player, and that's the thing," Ravens coach John 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.
"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. [He has] good body control. So he's got all the things that make for a good defensive back."
Said special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg: "All the way through training camp, he kept making plays. This is a great athlete. It didn't take us long to figure out he's not only a good special-teams player, he's a football player. And when he's covering our wide receivers in practice, it gives you the confidence that you can put him against the other team's best receivers."
Graham will square off Sunday against Wes Welker, this generation's most prolific receiver. Welker was selected for his fifth straight Pro Bowl this season and has averaged 112 catches over the past six years.
"He can do it all," Graham said. "He's a very quick guy. He catches the ball well. [Tom] Brady is looking for him a lot, and he makes a lot of guys miss with fakes and things like that. So he is a complete receiver.
"I have my hands full in the slot, but I am up to the challenge."