PITTSBURGH -- Curtis Brown hears the horror stories all the time. Whenever the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie cornerback reaches out to one of his old teammates at Texas playing elsewhere in the NFL, he's invariably met with tales of stolen playbooks, big egos and even bigger growing pains.
When his friends ask the third-round draft pick how it's going while trying to fit in on one of the league's most veteran-laden secondaries, he's not quite sure what to say.
Does he tell them about trading TV documentaries with All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu? Does he tell them about bending cornerback Ike Taylor's ear for hours on end about Pittsburgh's intricate coverage schemes?
Does he tell them other than carrying off shoulder pads a couple of times during training camp he hasn't been treated as if he's a rookie by his teammates even when he plays like one?
"It's very surprising," Brown said. "I didn't think it was going to be like this, my room in particular. But I can sit and have a conversation with any of the guys and they're going to listen."
It's an attitude that permeates the Steelers locker room. Pittsburgh rarely dabbles in the big-time free agent market and prefers to use the draft to find talented players and bring them along slowly.
Or, in the case of Brown and fellow rookies Cameron Heyward, Weslye Saunders and Cortez Allen, not so slowly.
Heading into the final quarter of their first season, the new kids are starting to make an impact for the streaking Steelers (9-3), who host Cleveland (4-8) on Thursday night.
Brown and Allen are becoming special teams standouts. Heyward, a Peachtree Ridge grad, is fitting in nicely into the defensive line rotation while Saunders is taking some of the pressure off veteran tight end Heath Miller.
"Like Coach (Mike Tomlin) always says, the standard is the standard," Allen said. "If he asks me to be out there, I've got to do the job he's asked me to do. If you're a rookie or a veteran, the job still has to be done and that's the approach I have to take."
It's one that's passed down from one wave of players to the next, from defensive end Aaron Smith to Brett Keisel to Ziggy Hood to Heyward, a first-round pick out of Ohio State who blocked a field goal in last week's 35-7 win over Cincinnati.
"At the beginning of the year these guys had confidence in us and we're just going right with it," Heyward said. "They've been very receptive toward us and I know Wes has taken a lot from Heath and Cortez has taken a lot from Ike and I've taken it from guys like Zig."
While Heyward was considered a can't-miss prospect, the other three have taken more roundabout routes to the field.
Saunders went undrafted following a tumultuous career at South Carolina, but blocked his way onto the team and scored his first touchdown in a 13-9 win over Kansas City two weeks ago. Allen, a fourth-round pick out of The Citadel, was injured during most of training camp and had to sweat out final cuts, but has played so well he's even getting some time in various nickel and dime packages.
"You want to compete with your teammates and you want to get better," Allen said. "The worst thing you can do is panic and take that approach. All you can do is get better and be ready when that time comes."
It's a lesson Brown learned while spending camp dealing with a balky hamstring and his own reticence. The soft-spoken 22-year-old found it difficult to speak up in meetings, but has come out of his shell thanks to the guidance of players such as Polamalu.
Though he has yet to see time at his natural position, he's making the kind of splash plays on special teams that get noticed. Brown spun away from two blockers on a punt late in the first half against the Bengals and slammed returner Brandon Tate to the ground at the Cincinnati 13. The Bengals threw three straight incompletions to force a punt that Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown took back 60 yards for a touchdown.
The player who had trouble staying healthy in camp has become invaluable on kick coverage and earned Tomlin's respect in the process.
"He's got a different sense of urgency than most," Tomlin said. "His hair is on fire. This guy competes when he's in position to make plays. He competes when he is in less than ideal positions, double-teams."Falcon's CB Grimes out vs Carolina, Moore may playFLOWERY BRANCH -- Atlanta Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes has been ruled out of Sunday's game at Carolina while he recovers from minor knee surgery.
Grimes had surgery on his right knee last week and is expected to miss two to four games. Dominique Franks could make his second straight in the Falcons' banged-up secondary.
Another cornerback, Kelvin Hayden, has missed two straight games with a toe injury. And safety William Moore hasn't played the last four weeks because of a quadriceps and groin injury. Coach Mike Smith says "when you're dealing with two major muscle groups, you want to make sure that he's ready to go before we put him back out there."
When Moore returns, he'll have to win back his job from James Sanders.Khan's bid to buy Jags clears hurdleNEW YORK. -- The NFL's finance committee has voted unanimously to recommend Shahid Khan's bid to buy the Jacksonville Jaguars to the full ownership committee for a vote next week.
The Illinois businessman met Tuesday at league headquarters with the 10-member committee, which includes current owner Wayne Weaver.
Asked if the team will stay in Jacksonville, Khan says he can't comment until the sale becomes official, but fans "will not be disappointed."
Weaver says he's optimistic the deal will be approved.Chargers barely
have pulse after
beating JaguarsSAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers have a pulse.
With Philip Rivers passing with authority, the Chargers snapped a six-game losing streak -- their longest in 10 years -- by beating the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars 38-14 on Monday night.
That means the Chargers (5-7) are two games behind Denver and Oakland in the AFC West with four to play. The Broncos (3-2) have a better division record than the Raiders (2-2). The Chargers are 2-3 in one of the NFL's weakest divisions.
In 2008, the Chargers were 4-8 before winning out and benefiting from Denver's collapse to claim the division title.
Getting to the playoffs this year will require nothing short of a miracle. Not only do the Chargers have some tough games left, but the Broncos have taken off behind Tim Tebow, winning five straight games.