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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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Deadline passes without a long-term deal for Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon

Deadline passes without a long-term deal for Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon

Wednesday’s deadline for a long-term deal came and went, and Matthew Judon ended the day just as he began it: Without a contract extension.

Judon and the Ravens had until 4 p.m. to reach an agreement, but now that option is no longer possible as he’ll play the 2020 season under the franchise tag — which is worth $16.8 million.

The case for extending Judon was a clear one. He’s the team’s best pass-rusher, has missed just two games in his four NFL seasons and registered a career-best 9.5 sacks and 33 quarterback hits a season ago. 

With Judon, who will turn 28 next month, on a one-year deal, the options to replace him elsewhere on the depth chart are sparse. The closest anyone came to nearing his sack total was Tyus Bowser, who had five sacks and 10 quarterback hits. Next was two players (Patrick Onwuasor and Pernell McPhee) who had three sacks each. 

RELATED: JUDON JOKES BEFORE DEADLINE

But the reality of the situation is much more complex for the Ravens and Judon. 

While Judon has gotten better progressively throughout his career, he’s never entered the elite category of pass-rushers in the NFL. His 9.5 sacks a year ago tied him for 19th in the league, tied with Mario Addison, now of the Bills, and Jordan Phillips, now of the Cardinals. Both players, coincidentally, changed teams after the 2019 season. 

Additionally, the Ravens’ salary cap situation is going to get a lot more complex in the coming months and years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the league’s financial situation into flux, as there are questions about the salary cap increasing for the 2021 season — in fact, there are rumors it might even decrease.

With that in mind, the Ravens aren’t in a strong spot, cap-wise, to spend freely. 

They’ve got left tackle Ronnie Stanley up for an extension after this season, a contract that could eclipse Laremy Tunsil’s whopping $22 million per year deal.

In 2022, cornerback Marlon Humphrey will be up for a contract extension. That same year, tight end Mark Andrews and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. will hit the free agent market as well. All three players were Pro Bowlers in the 2019 season. 

Finally, there’s the looming storm of quarterback Lamar Jackson’s eventual contract extension. He’s due to become a free agent in 2023 after his fifth-year option. 

The Ravens, however, are eligible to begin negotiations with Jackson after the 2020 season concludes. If that’s the case, and they follow the same trajectory as the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes, money is going to get a lot tighter in Baltimore in the coming seasons.

Which brings the team back to Judon, and where he fits in their long-term plans.

“They’ve kind of got a ‘bad-good’ problem to have,” Judon said a month ago. “We have a lot of young talent, and unfortunately, we can’t all stay on the rookie deal our whole careers.”

If the Ravens and Judon are able to find a dollar figure that works for both sides after the season ends, it’s conceivable to think he’ll have a home for the next few seasons. As for how much money the Ravens can allot, however, remains to be seen.

But now, any deal will now have to come after the 2020 season has concluded. And at the moment, it looks like this will be Judon’s last season as a Raven.

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Ravens will not host fans at 2020 training camp

Ravens will not host fans at 2020 training camp

There is no official start date for when the Baltimore Ravens will be back at Under Armor Performance center for training camp. However, whenever that day comes, fans will not be in attendance.

In a press release sent out by the team on Wednesday, Ravens president Dick Cass said “health and safety will always be a top priority, and while we are disappointed that fans will not attend training camp, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the public and our organization. We look forward to welcoming back fans in the future when we can safely do so.”

The team's decision not to host fans follows protocols put in place by the NFL/NFLPA, which prohibits teams from doing so.

The training facility which in years past, has hosted up to 2,000 fans at each practice, will obey by the NFL/NFLPA guidelines to not host fans even if state and local government regulations say otherwise.

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