Corey Graham will complete a first in his professional career Sunday for the Baltimore Ravens.
Graham, a 28-year-old Buffalo native, will get to play a regular-season game in his hometown for the first time when the Ravens visit the Bills.
“It’s fun. I definitely grew up going to the Bills games. I was a big-time Bills fan growing up. My uncles still are die-hard Bills fans,” Graham said Thursday night in a radio interview with WGR 550. “I’m hoping they’re all going to be rooting for me and not the Bills, or they’ll never get tickets from me again. … It should be a fun environment, a fun place to play, and I’m looking forward to coming back home.”
Graham will do so as a Super Bowl champion. He was a key part of the Ravens’ run to the Super Bowl XLVII title in February, stepping in as a starting cornerback midway through the regular season after the loss of Lardarius Webb to injury.
Graham, who’s entering his seventh NFL season, is a graduate of Turner-Carroll High School. He’s believed to be just the seventh player ever from Western New York to win a Super Bowl championship, joining Mark Murphy (Washington Redskins, XVII), Jim Burt (New York Giants, XXI; San Francisco XXIV), Phil McConkey (Giants, XXI), Daryl Johnston (Dallas Cowboys, XXVII, XXVIII, XXX), Josh Thomas (Indianapolis Colts, XLI) and James Starks (Green Bay Packers, XLV).
Graham, who expects to have at least 30 fans and friends in Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, was joined in New Orleans by several family members in February.
“It was definitely amazing. I had the opportunity to have my family down there with me, enjoying the festivities and all the things that were going on,” he said, “but I was down there for a reason, you know, and that was to win a Super Bowl.”
Graham is in his second season with the Ravens after starting his professional career with the Chicago Bears. He’s currently the No. 3 cornerback behind Webb and Jimmy Smith, playing about half the defensive snaps.
“You see so much three wide and spread-type offensive stuff, so you really need three starting corners,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “So I’d consider all three of those guys starters.”
Harbaugh was instrumental in the Ravens signing Graham before the 2012 season, along with special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.
“I think that Jerry Rosburg and myself, you know, were the two that had the highest hopes for him, because we had seen him play the most, and then very quickly the whole coaching staff realized what we had,” Harbaugh said. “He’s just a gem. He’s played that way. He’s off to a great start again this year, so we’re just really pleased with him.”
Graham started the season opener against the Denver Broncos, the same team he stepped onto the national stage against in last year’s playoffs. In that divisional round game, he intercepted Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in double overtime, setting up a game-winning field goal by Justin Tucker. It was Graham’s second interception of the game – he returned the other for a touchdown.
“Sometimes, you look at this guy, and he does everything so well, you almost go without noticing him,” Harbaugh said of Graham to Baltimore reporters prior to the season opener. “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.”
After taking over for Webb, Graham recorded 60 tackles, eight pass deflections and two interceptions in the regular season. This year, he’s got 14 tackles in the first three games, helping the Ravens to a 2-1 start.
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees likes Graham’s intelligence.
“I think the biggest thing any corner needs is to be smart,” Pees told Baltimore reporters. “There are a lot of talented, talented defensive backs out there that can run like the wind, and they might even be big, but can’t play very well.”
Graham has also been a positive presence in the Baltimore locker room – an important trait that has been in the spotlight this week with the Ravens.
Former Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said Monday the Ravens were “missing leadership” after an incident that morning on a party bus involving wide receiver Jacoby Jones – who was allegedly assaulted by a stripper.
Harbaugh told reporters he was “not very impressed” after the incident, but both the coach and current Ravens players were quick to disagree with Lewis’ take.
“I’m on record regarding the leadership of our team,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve got to probably agree with what Torrey Smith said, you know, I didn’t really see the connection there and would not agree with those comments.”
Harbaugh said it’s a “long list” when he looks at the leadership of his team, especially on defense.
“Terrell Suggs has done a great job. … Lardarius Webb, James Ihedigbo, and there’s a lot of other guys as well,” the coach said. “Corey Graham, he’s one of our best leaders. I love being around Corey every day.”
Graham said the Ravens have “moved on” from the loss of Lewis and safety Ed Reed, among others on defense.
“The defense as a whole is coming together. We’re understanding of where guys are going to be at. … We like the guys we have here as of right now. Guys know their role, what they’re supposed to be doing, so we’re starting to get in sync,” he told WGR.
“As a defense, we feel pretty good. At the beginning, it’s tough when you lose guys like that, but we’ve moved forward. We’ve got a lot of guys who have stepped up in the leadership role and we’ve got a lot of guys who know what we want to get accomplished here.”