OWINGS MILLS - Teammates and coaches have noticed a different Chykie Brown over the course of the last month.
Brown's noticed a difference within himself as well.
"[Chykie] and I actually had a conversation coming off the field [this past Sunday] and he told me, 'I'm growing up, Coach. I'm growing up.' And he is," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's playing technique. He's playing good, solid technique and his eyes are in the right place."
The improved Brown has helped fortify a Ravens secondary decimated by injuries during different points of the season. He's been repeatedly praised by teammates and coaches for his strong and steadily improving play since taking over as the team's primary nickel back in Week 16, and he'll be counted on to play a primary role in attempting to slow down Peyton Manning and a prolific Denver Broncos passing game amid Baltimore's divisional round matchup with the Broncos Saturday in Denver.
"Chykie Brown is going to be one of the key guys," fellow cornerback Cary Williams said.
Brown was a fifth-round pick of Baltimore in the 2011 draft. He saw only minimal playing time at cornerback as a rookie last season, and he didn't see any action at cornerback through the first five games of this year until being thrust into action as a result of injuries to fellow cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.
But since stepping in as the team's primary nickel back in late December, the physical and aggressive Brown has 10 tackles and six pass deflections in the last three games. He had four pass deflections against the New York Giants in Week 16 while helping to limit Eli Manning to just 150 yards through the air. He played a role in the Ravens holding Cincinnati Bengals signal callers Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski to just 143 yards a week later. And amid Baltimore's 24-9 wild-card win against the Indianapolis Colts last week, Brown had three tackles and a pass deflection in helping Baltimore hold the Colts without a touchdown.
According to Pro Football Focus, Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck completed only two of the six passes he threw in Brown's direction, accumulating just 22 yards on those two completions.
"Chykie's done a great job," Williams said. "He's matured, and he's really coming around. I know his first year was difficult, but he's come out and matured and done everything's he's been asked to do and more.
"And right now, we're leaning heavily on that guy and we expect him to come out and play great football. He's done it so far this season, and we're going to need him to do it again."
Brown was on the field for 69 of Baltimore's 87 defensive snaps against the Colts, a pass-oriented offensive attack that often employed three- or more wide receiver sets.
He's likely to see a similar workload against a Manning-led Broncos team that also primarily operates out of three- or more wide receiver formations.
Manning threw for an average of more than 290 yards per game during the regular season and tossed 37 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions.
Three different Broncos wide receivers had 45 catches or more during the regular season.
"It's a big test, a big game," Brown said. "They've got good receivers and a great quarterback. We've just got to [be disciplined] and just do our job."
NOTE: Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach (knee/ankle) and rookie running back Bernard Pierce both practiced on a limited basis Thursday after missing practice Wednesday and both are expected to play against Denver Saturday.
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe also worked on a limited basis Thursday - the second straight day he's done - and he's also expected to be available on Saturday.
"It's encouraging to have all our guys," Harbaugh said. "As I pointed out early, we aren't anticipating anybody missing this game. We'll have that [injury] report out for you, but I don't think there's going to be anything on there that's going to surprise you at all. We look like we're in good shape."
Reach staff writer Matt Zenitz at 410-857-7896 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mzenitz.