NEW ORLEANS -- Corey Graham finally found a place where he feel he belongs. After five seasons of being primarily a special-teams player for the Bears, Graham has settled into a starting role for the Ravens.
Graham started 10 games -- including nine in 2008 -- for the Bears from 2007-11. He's started the last 11 games for the Ravens, including three playoff games., and will be their starting cornerback in Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Bears tried to re-sign him, but the Ravens were a better opportunity -- financially and for playing time.
"I would ask [Lovie Smith] what I needed to do to get better or show that I needed to be on the field and he would say, 'Corey, you're doing everything that I asked you to do,'" Graham said. "I don't know what the situation was, but he fit me as a special teams (player) and he wanted me to be that, and that's just what it was. I felt like I was playing pretty well when I was there my last two years. I felt like I could have been on the field, but it's a different defense [than the Ravens].
"In Chicago, basically, you have your two corners, you have your nickel, and that's it. It's not a system like here where you sometimes have six defensive backs on the field at the same time and stuff like that. It's a system where they can create packages and put guys in to get you there. In Chicago it's a cover two system. It's simple. You have your exact spots and that's it. When you watch teams like the Ravens and the Jets, you see different guys, different sets, a lot of guys on the field, a lot of defensive backs. I knew in coming to a different system that I'd have the opportunity to show why I should be out there."
As good as he was on special teams, Graham's goal was to get rid of the "special teams" label.
"My second year [with the Bears] I was fortunate to get the opportunity to start in eight games and I felt like I played pretty well," Graham said. "But things happen for a reason. They ended up getting different things out of me. They wanted me to be the special-teams guy there, so I went out there when I got a chance and made the best out of my opportunity and tried to be the best special-teams player in the league. When you're doing that, sometimes you get labeled like that. It's tough like that. Sometimes it's hard to get that label off."
The Ravens didn't promise more playing time. In fact, injuries opened the door for Graham. But to his credit, he's performed well, and his best performance was just a few weeks ago. Graham had two interceptions against Peyton Manning and Denver Broncos in the divisional round.
"This has been amazing. It's been unreal," Graham said. "I think everything this year has been amazing. I couldn't ask for anything more. I not only got the opportunity to get a chance to play, but I got the opportunity to play with guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. It's been amazing. We've been riding a long time and now we're here in the Super Bowl. We have one more step to go, but it's been an amazing ride so far."
As far as the Bears trying to keep him, Graham said, he "knew [he] had to move on and do something bigger." He wasn't satisfied just being on special teams, which he would remained in Chicago with Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore in front of him.
Graham, though, said he did love his time in Chicago.
"They drafted me and gave me an opportunity to play when, to be honest with you, I didn't even know if I'd get the chance to play in the league," Graham said. "You go to a D1-AA school and you break your ankle and you can't run at the combine and show what you can do. When you come back and try to run it at pro days, you might be at 70 percent. You're just hoping just to get by. I was blessed just to get an opportunity to play in this league. I was hoping I would get picked up as a free agent. I didn't care. I just wanted to get the chance and they gave me a chance. I was whipping all over the place. I was thankful they gave me the chance to play on special teams and I gave it everything I had.
"It wasn't until my second year when I started in eight games that things started to change. I knew what I could do at this level. I was playing against the best receivers in the world and I held on so I felt good about it. After that season, everything turned. I was at starting corner and they moved me to safety for two weeks and when I went back to corner I was behind everybody at corner. I didn't agree with the way things went."