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Youngsters Allen, Brown stepping in for Taylor


Youngsters Allen, Brown stepping in for Taylor

PITTSBURGH (AP) The seeds for a rivalry between Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen were planted early.

Selected one round apart by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2011 NFL draft, the cornerbacks found themselves fighting for playing time - and a roster spot - on a defense that isn't the easiest to learn.

Brown, a third-round pick, played at Texas. Allen, who went a round later, played at The Citadel, far from the bright lights of big-time college football.

Coach Mike Tomlin admits he ``pitted'' the two youngsters against one another much the way he did with wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, separated by 113 picks in the 2010 draft.

The ploy worked, kind of. While the cornerbacks admit they're better off for having to compete with the other, there is no blood feud, no looking over each other's shoulder to see what the other is doing.

``He's probably my closest friend on the team,'' Allen said.

The fact the Steelers initially rated Curtis Brown a little higher never comes up, perhaps because both players know it's irrelevant. They were selected to be teammates, though that hasn't stopped Tomlin from using the ``two dogs, one bone'' metaphor to try to help them bring out the best in each other.

While they have, that competitiveness doesn't carry over off the field.

``We chill every day,'' Brown said. ``We hang out together in the offseason. We're in it for the long run.''

One that's starting a little sooner than planned.

Allen and Brown will see extensive playing time when the Steelers (7-5) take on San Diego (4-8) Sunday without veteran cornerback Ike Taylor for the first time in eight years.

Taylor is out at least two weeks with a fractured right ankle, leaving Pittsburgh's top-ranked pass defense very young and more than a little fired up.

``I take the approach that you should always be prepared,'' Allen said. ``I was ready for this and I feel like the coaching staff and my teammates are confident in me to get the job done.''

The bigger, bulkier Allen - who at 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds is an inch taller and 11 pounds heavier than Brown - will start at cornerback then slide into his usual nickel spot in passing situations while Brown replaces him on the outside.

It's a setup both feel plays to their strengths. Brown feels more comfortable going one-on-one on the outside, where quickness and instincts can overcome mistakes, while Allen's cerebral approach makes him a perfect fit for the sometimes complex coverage assignments.

``I'm just trying to make a name for myself at corner,'' Brown said.

He's already on his way. Brown didn't have time to get nervous last Sunday when Taylor went out in the first quarter. He suddenly found himself thrust into a critical spot in the most important game of the season.

Don't think the Ravens didn't notice, targeting Brown twice on third downs shortly after he came onto the field. Both plays ended up with incompletions in the Steelers' 23-20 win.

``They cooled off after a while,'' Brown said. ``They tried me the first two third downs and they weren't successful. ... They didn't throw much at me after that.''

Allen's start proved rockier. Baltimore wide receiver Anquan Boldin lit him up several times in the first half as the Ravens moved the ball with relative ease as Baltimore eased to a 13-6 lead.

Getting picked on didn't tighten Allen up. If anything, it helped him relax.

``The new guy, yeah, (teams) try to go at him,'' Allen said. ``It's something you have to be ready for. Every down you play, you have to play like it's coming to you. I was ready for it and expecting it and I accept that challenge.''

So does fourth-year cornerback Keenan Lewis, who suddenly finds himself the elder statesman. Lewis has provided a sounding board for both Allen and Brown, maybe it's because he's used to being considered the weaker link with Taylor on the other side of the field.

There's a reason Lewis is tied for the NFL lead in passes defensed: Teams would prefer to throw at him than Taylor. He persevered much the same way the kids lining up next to him Sunday will have to endure against one of the league's biggest receiving corps.

Then again, being relatively anonymous isn't exactly a bad thing. When asked what he knew about Allen and Brown, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers just laughed.

``Not a ton obviously,'' Rivers said. ``I know it's a confident group of guys that stepped up in the game and played there in Baltimore and won.''

Something the two young cornerbacks know is the standard in Pittsburgh no matter who is on the field. There will be times when it's just one of them out there. They're fine with it, knowing when the time comes, they have each other's back.

``The `two dogs, one bone thing,' that's a Coach T thing,'' Brown said. ``We're just working every day.''


Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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Ravens sign Crabtree to three-year deal

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Ravens sign Crabtree to three-year deal

The Baltimore Ravens have signed WR Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal on Friday according to general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome.

The deal is apparently worth $21 million, according to Adam Shefter.

After being released by the Raiders Thursday following the signing of Jordy Nelson, Crabtree heads to the Ravens less than 24 hours later.


The 31-year-old is coming off a 2017 season when he recorded 58 receptions for 618 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2016 he posted 89 receptions for 1,003 yards and eight touchdowns.

Since 2015, the Texas Tech product has scored 25 receiving touchdowns, the fifth-most in the NFL. Crabtree and Steelers WR Antonio Brown are the only NFL players to post at least eight touchdown catches in each of the past three seasons.


In all, Crabtree has played nine NFL seasons – six of them with San Francisco (2009-14) and three with Oakland (2015-17). The former first-round draft pick (10th overall, Texas Tech) has registered 579 receptions for 6,870 yards (11.9 avg.) and 51 touchdowns in 125 career games (122 starts).

“Michael has played very well against the Ravens, so we know firsthand the attributes he brings to the game,” Newsome said in a team statement. “He is a smart, tough, physical receiver who battles for the ball. We like his temperament and believe he is a good fit for our football team, on and off the field.”

Since he entered the NFL in 2009, Crabtree’s 51 receiving scores rank 10th among active wide receivers, while his receptions (579) are seventh, and his receiving yards (6,870) are 12th.

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Ryan Grant's health issue and why the Ravens couldn't control voiding his contract

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Ryan Grant's health issue and why the Ravens couldn't control voiding his contract

The most obvious move in the NFL this offseason was the Ravens signing a new wide receiver (or three). It was less obvious why the team decided to commit so much money to former Redskins receiver Ryan Grant.

Grant has long been beloved by his coaches and teammates, but the results have never been there on game day. He has some potential to improve if given a larger role in a team's offense, which he likely would have had in Baltimore, but it never made much sense to offer him a 4-year contract worth nearly 30 million, with $14.5 million guaranteed.

Thankfully for fans who were uninspired by the reported agreement, Grant was unable to pass his physical and will not be joining the team.


At a press conference Friday morning, GM Ozzie Newsome called the void a "medical decision" that Newsome had no control over. 

NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported that Grant is recovering from a Grade 2 sprained ankle that would need two months rest.

You have to feel for Grant, who by all accounts has worked his tail off for many years just waiting for his chance. It's never easy missing out on nearly $15 million dollars guaranteed, but Grant should be able to find work with another team.

The timing of this news, coming so soon after former Raider Michael Crabtree became available, seemed fishy to some.

At Friday's press conference, Newsome also said the team would have still pursued Crabtree if they signed Grant. 

It's probably not fair to suggest that an NFL franchise would actually so publicly back out of a deal just because another option came along, as any team with that reputation would struggle to attract future free agents. That said, it could end up working out splendidly for the team.

Besides, if all else is equal, shouldn't a team located in Baltimore be going after a guy named CRABtree?