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Youngsters Allen, Brown stepping in for Taylor

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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.''

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

Kick off your holiday weekend with the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

1. One of the most obvious needs for the Ravens is help rushing the passer, and they're hoping to find some of that help on the interior in the form of free agent Gerald McCoy. The longtime Buccaneer DL visited Cleveland last week, but left town without agreeing to a contract.

Reportedly interested in playing for a contender, the former top-five pick is scheduled to visit the Ravens on Tuesday.

2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is still struggling to throw the ball, as he noted things aren't right yet when it comes to accuracy. Media members noticed the ball wobbling through the air on many throws, and Jackson told them he thinks his hand is too high on the ball. If he's going to successfully run Greg Roman's new offensive scheme, Jackson will eventually need to be able to hit his receivers in stride with greater regularity.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

MORE RAVENS NEWS

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Lamar Jackson is his own biggest critic

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Lamar Jackson is his own biggest critic

Kick off your Friday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including how quarterback Lamar Jackson has fared during OTAs.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. Following a January surgery on his left ankle, safety Tony Jefferson remains sidelined after the first week of OTAs. Originally, Jefferson was expected to return 4-6 weeks after surgery. However, now that it's 5 months later, his return timetable is becoming more and more concerning. 

2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson spoke with Ravens media Thursday about his progress not only learning the new offense implemented by Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman, but learning the names of his new teammates as well. After another day of OTAs, Jackson was his biggest critic despite a solid day of running plays namely passing drills. “I’d say my first day, I sucked,” Jackson said to Ravens media. “Second day, I did better. Today was alright, but it could have been better. I always try to be perfect in practice. It was alright for the first week.”

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

MORE RAVENS NEWS