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Ravens: Graham gets little attention, but plays big part

OWINGS MILLS - Corey Graham is the Ravens' No. 2 cornerback. He's coming off a breakthrough season. And by all accounts, he had a strong training camp and preseason.
From a fan and media standpoint, Graham seemingly doesn't get much attention.
During the summer, he may have been the least talked about player at his own position among the four cornerbacks currently on Baltimore's active roster.
But Graham proved to be a capable starter for the Ravens last season. And even though he may not get as much attention as some of his teammates, Graham has further established himself as an important piece of Baltimore's defense going into this year.
"That's how it is with Corey," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Sometimes you look at this guy and he does everything so well that you almost go without noticing him. To me, that's a great compliment, especially for a defensive back. He's just out there doing his job every day and doing it really well."
That's not to say Graham doesn't make plays.
Fellow cornerback Lardarius Webb raves about Graham's playmaking skills, skills that Graham showed last season after taking over as a starter in November because of injuries to both Webb and Jimmy Smith.
Graham was primarily a special teams player during his first five seasons in the NFL - all with the Chicago Bears - but he had three interceptions in limited action with the Bears in 2011 and had 15 pass deflections and four interceptions in his 12 starts for the Ravens last season (including the playoffs).
Both totals were team-highs during that 12-game period, and Graham's 77 tackles during that span were the most among the Ravens' defensive backs.
Two of the interceptions came during the Ravens' double overtime win over the Denver Broncos in the playoffs, including one Graham returned for a touchdown during the first quarter and another late in the first overtime that helped set up Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal.
"Since he first got here, he's been getting his hands on the ball," Webb said. "He's just a straight playmaker. He gets interceptions. He's always around the ball. ... He's an awesome corner."
But the best thing about Graham's game may be that he typically doesn't stick out for negative reasons.
He didn't for the most part last season, and it was rare to see Graham get beat in coverage during training camp and the preseason, whether inside in the nickel or working outside in Baltimore's base defense.
"[He's] smart," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "I think the biggest thing any corner needs to be is smart. ... There are a lot of talented, talented defensive backs out there that can run like the wind, and they might even be big, but they can't play very well.
"That's what I like about Corey. Corey is a smart, smart football player."
Baltimore rookie receiver Aaron Mellette compared Graham to Webb, who is considered one of the league's top cornerbacks and one of the league's top playmakers at cornerback.
"He's definitely a tough guy to go against," Mellette said of Graham. "He's maybe not physical like Jimmy [Smith] is, but him and Webb are similar as far as intelligence and knowing how to read routes.
"Sometimes, he runs routes for us at practice, and he has great ball-hawking skills. He plays the ball in the air very well, and just that alone separates him."
But when they kick off their season Thursday against the Broncos, the ideal scenario for Baltimore will be for Graham to do exactly what he's done throughout this summer: Avoid being noticed.
But it won't be easy.
Graham played the nickel in sub-packages last season after Webb went down with his injury, and he's continued to play that role this summer even with Webb back, which means he'll be largely matched up against Wes Welker on Thursday.
Welker has been the most productive slot receiver in the NFL for the past several years. Welker signed with the Broncos during the offseason. But with the New England Patriots last season, he had eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens in the AFC championship while matched up primarily with Graham.
"He matched up with Welker last year. It's not like this is his first parade," Pees said of Graham. "He's matched up against him before, and we'll try to do the best job we can and help guys when we can help them."

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