Youngsters Allen, Brown stepping in for Taylor
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
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
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
”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
”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
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
”I’m just trying to make a name for myself at corner,” Brown
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
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
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
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