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WESTMINSTER, Md. — The flamboyance and name recognition have exited the building and the Baltimore Ravens’ secondary with future Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders’ departure. In his place comes a blue-collar, stocky defensive back who lacks Sanders’ style points and stature, but makes up for those traits with his substance and youth.
The Ravens have installed unheralded Corey Ivy at Sanders’ old nickel back spot after signing him to a three-year contract on March 23. At 5-foot-9, 188 pounds, Ivy represents a self-made player who scrapped his way into a prominent role in addition to being a special-teams ace.
At age 29, Ivy is also a decade younger than Sanders.
“You don’t have to be big to be successful in this game,” Ivy said. “There are plenty of small corners that have been in this game and are still in this game. I just use an aggressive style in a positive way on the field.
“You might get hurt or give up a play here or there, but you’ve got to bring your aggression to the field. I learned that people look down on the little guy, but I know how to play this game and I love it.”
Ivy, a part-time St. Louis Rams starter last season who registered a career-high 60 tackles and intercepted a pass, has impressed the coaching staff with his aggressive bump-and-run coverage and feisty approach.
“Corey has been a huge plus,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “I don’t want to say surprise because that diminishes the regard we have for him, but his leadership and passion for the game have helped us a lot.
“He is very sound, technique-wise. We had him rated very highly. We were glad to have him and we got even more than we thought we were going to get.”
The Ravens initially envisioned third-round draft pick David Pittman as the man who would fill their nickel spot, the fifth defensive back on the field. However, the rookie has been hampered by a strained hamstring and is only now getting up to speed. Ivy has capitalized on Pittman’s slow progress and it doesn’t look like he’ll be giving up that slot anytime soon.
“I just came in here and tried to do the best I can and take coaching and try to transfer it to the field,” Ivy said. “So far, it has been a good transition for me. You’ve always got to be ready.
“Playing defensive back is important, but I will never forget where I came from. I made my name on special teams.”
Like starting nose guard Kelly Gregg, Ivy was coached by Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan when he was the University of Oklahoma in 1998. That familiarity helped lead to Baltimore keeping an eye on Ivy as he bounced from the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Rams.
“Corey is one of the hardest-working guys we have,” Ryan said. “He’s all football player. You have to respect his toughness, heart and character. He’s making himself really valuable to our defense."
Besides jamming wide receivers in the chest in press coverage, Ivy hasn’t been shy about letting them know when he’s derailed their pattern. Ivy was prominently captured on NFL Films last season unleashing a loud barrage of insults to opposing receivers.
“I’m not shy,” Ivy said. “That’s just part of the game of football. The receivers are definitely going to talk trash to you, so it’s all fair.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.