When discussing the makeup of a roster, Ravens coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees love to say, in so many words, "You can never have enough cornerbacks."
This year's Ravens team is showing just how true that is.
The cornerback position was expected to be an area of strength this year, with starters Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams both returning and first-round draft pick Jimmy Smith ready to compete for a starting job. Now halfway through the season, two of those three are lost for a big chunk of the season and cornerback is suddenly an area of huge concern.
Webb (knee) is out for the season and Smith is expected to miss at least several weeks after undergoing surgery this week for an injury that Harbaugh on Friday categorized as a sports hernia. The situation was dire enough that the Ravens went out this week and signed former Raiders cornerback Chris Johnson, who not only joined the 53-man roster, but could be filling in as a nickel or dime back on Sunday at Heinz Field less than a week after receiving his Ravens playbook.
"You don’t expect all of this to happen, but hey, it’s football," Pees said at his weekly news conference on Thursday. "It’s professional football. Some years you go through unscathed, and some years and you go through and it’s not. You have to make do with what you have."
What the Ravens have, for now, is Williams starting at one corner and Corey Graham stepping up to start at the other. Graham, a Pro Bowl special teams player with the Bears, signed this offseason with the Ravens and was hoping for a chance to play in the secondary. He definitely has that now. He started last week and figures to start at Heinz Field as well, with second-year corner Chykie Brown moving into the nickel role.
"There were some plays they made and some plays they didn’t make," Pees said, assessing the play of Graham and Brown against Oakland last week. "I think both of them are improving every day. We have to do a good job of putting them in the right spot and not asking them to do things that they really can’t do. We have to do a good job as a coaching staff of scheming it up and putting them in the right spot.”
Their job at Heinz Field on Sunday should be made somewhat easier by the absence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (ribs, shoulder) and receiver Antonio Brown (ankle), who on Friday both were declared out for the game.
And Pees says Graham, Brown and even Johnson will be ready.
" if a guy is on our football team, he is a professional football player ..." Pees said. "Whenever you even have a backup come in, the guy is a doggone good football player or he wouldn’t be here. That’s what backups’ jobs are."