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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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Ravens agree to terms with first-round pick Hayden Hurst

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USA TODAY Sports

Ravens agree to terms with first-round pick Hayden Hurst

The Ravens have their entire 2018 draft class locked up.

The team agreed to terms with first-round pick Hayden Hurst, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Hurst's rookie contract - like all first-round picks - is a four-year deal with a team option of a fifth year. According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the 25th overall pick is due $11.1 million. 

The 24-year old, who was a walk on at South Carolina at 21-years old after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, finished his three-year career with 100 receptions, 1,281 yards and three touchdowns.

Standing at 6-foot-3, Hurst will be a nice addition to the TE corps with Nick Boyle and third-round draft pick Mark Andrews. 

Fellow first-round pick Lamar Jackson signed his rookie contract on June 5th.

Training camp kicks off for the Ravens July 19th. 

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

Since drafting Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have made it clear that Joe Flacco is their starter. That doesn't mean they're not experimenting with having them both on the field at the same time, however. 

During this week's minicamp, the team has been lining Jackson up at multiple positions. 

"Gosh, I sure like him out there helping us," coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson during Tuesday's minicamp, via ESPN.com.

"If you put two quarterbacks on the field at once, what options does it create for our offense? That's what we're trying to figure out."

While at Louisville, Jackson rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons. That's more rushing yards than No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. That unique skill set could be the creative options the Ravens are looking for. 

While at the NFL Combine, however, Jackson refused to workout at any other position than QB. 

"I have a lot of fun seeing what they come up with and what they're going to come up with next," Jackson said. "We'll see where it goes. You have to use your good players."

The Ravens are already viewing Jackson as one of those 'good players.' 

"Once he gets out of the pocket, it's like watching a young Michael Vick," LB C.J. Mosley said after minicamp practice. "It's amazing to watch. When you're defending him, you just have to act like you're tagging off -- you don't want to be on the highlight reel."

Harbaugh has alluded to the fact that the rookie will be active on game days, just exactly how they get the most out of him is what's in play.

"There's a lot of considerations that go into that," Harbaugh said of using two QBs at the once. "Everybody has an opinion. I've read a few. You want to find a way to get the most out of all your guys."

While Flacco isn't the fasted QB in the league, he has shown glimpses of running ability in the past. Figuring out how to utilize Flacco when Jackson is under center is where things will get interesting.

Interesting - as long as it works - is what Ravens fans have been searching for over the last several seasons. 

"Joe has to be able to do other things if [Jackson is] throwing the ball," Harbaugh said. "It gets the creative juices flowing for our offensive coaches, and they've worked hard on that."

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