OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens would have preferred to go into next season with their depth chart at cornerback intact, returning Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith as the starters and Corey Graham as the trusted nickel back.
But Graham signed with the Buffalo Bills as a free agent during the offseason.
Now, the Ravens are voicing confidence that Chykie Brown or Asa Jackson can step into that nickel role and help to replace Graham.
"They're going to be big for us coming up this year," Webb said after an organized team activity practice last week.
Ravens officials have talked about adding competition for that third corner job throughout the offseason, but Baltimore did not take any cornerbacks in the NFL draft and has not signed any free agent cornerbacks aside from four undrafted rookies.
"[General manager Ozzie Newsome] knows he has two great, young guys that are coming up," Webb said.
Brown was a fifth-round pick of Baltimore in 2011.
He didn't see much time on defense as a rookie, but he saw time as the Ravens' nickel back in 2012 due to injury and got in on some sub-packages last year.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said during training camp last year that Brown has improved as much as anyone on Baltimore's roster since he was drafted.
He is the early favorite to win the third corner job.
"Chykie Brown has been playing good," Webb said. "He's had his chance to get out on the field and [gain] experience. But now, he gets thrown in and it's his. He's going to get to show you all what he's capable of."
Jackson is in the mix, too.
Jackson was a fifth-round pick in 2012. He has been suspended each of the last two years for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, including the first eight games last year, but he had 14 tackles, an interception, a pass deflection and a forced fumble during last year's preseason.
"[Jackson] can play the nickel and outside, but mostly better inside," Webb said.
The Ravens might sign a corner at some point to add to the competition for Brown and Jackson. It is also possible one of the undrafted rookies could emerge. But for now, it looks like Brown and Jackson will be the primary two competing for that No. 3 job.
"Asa's my man, but business is business," Brown said. "I'm going for that third spot, and I pray I have a good season and I stay healthy."