NFL takes second shot at reinventing Pro Bowl
(SportsNetwork.com) - The NFL's second attempt at reinventing the Pro Bowl kicks off Super Bowl week in Glendale on Sunday when the NFL's best square off at University of Phoenix Stadium.
For the second straight year, the Pro Bowl will be utilizing an "unconferenced format," in an effort to add excitement to a game long criticized for its lack of competitiveness.
Last year marked the first time the familiar AFC-NFC dynamic that has existed since 1971 was replaced by teams captained by Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.
Team Rice earned a 22-21 victory over Team Sanders in that one thanks to a 20-yard touchdown pass from Kansas City's Alex Smith to the Cowboys' DeMarco Murray in the final minute, which was followed by a successful two-point conversion.
This year the alumni captains are Hall of Fame receivers Cris Cater and Michael Irvin, who began shaping the 2015 Pro Bowl rosters on Tuesday.
Irvin won a coin toss and had his choice of active player captains, choosing Murray and Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden as the first members of Team Irvin, and leaving Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown as captains for Team Carter.
Team Carter led off the draft process and populated its team with a pair of Buffalo interior defensive lineman, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. Others chosen for Carter's team included Kansas City DT Dontari Poe, the Pouncey brothers, Dolphins guard Mike and Pittsburgh center Maurkice; Green Bay teammates Josh Sitton and John Kuhn; Eagles O-linemen Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce; and the team's four specialists, Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee, Philadelphia kicker Cody Parkey, Arizona coverage stalwart Justin Bethel and Atlanta Falcons return special its Devin Hester.
The selections made by Team Irvin on Tuesday were defensive tackles Aaron Donald of St. Louis, Sheldon Richardson of the Jets, and Geno Atkins of Cincinnati; as well as offensive linemen Zack Martin and Travis Frederick of the Cowboys, Marshal Yanda of Baltimore, Kyle Long of Chicago and the Jets' Nick Mangold.
Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece and Irvin's four specialists, punter Kevin Huber of Cincinnati, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, Chargers special teamer Darrell Stuckey and Eagles return specialist Darren Sproles finished the work on Tuesday.
Wednesday's portion of the draft included quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, as well as offensive tackles, defensive ends, linebackers and defensive backs.
Carter got things rolling by selecting Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck as the first overall pick for the second straight year. Irvin, meanwhile, stayed close to his Dallas roots by picking Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo with his first pick.
"It's nice, I guess," Luck said of the honor. "The reality is that everybody is deserving of it. There's a bunch of No. 1 picks in (the draft) but it's nice I guess."
Carter's other selections were: quarterbacks Drew Brees of the Saints and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton; running backs Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs, Alfred Morris of the Redskins and Justin Forsett of the Ravens; wide receivers Jordy Nelson of the Packers, T.Y. Hilton of the Colts and A.J. Green of the Bengals; tight ends Greg Olsen of the Panthers and Martellus Bennett of the Bears; offensive tackle Ryan Clady of the Broncos, Joe Staley of the 49ers and Duane Brown of the Texans.
On defense Carter went with defensive ends Mario Williams of the Bills and Calais Campbell of the Cardinals; linebackers Justin Houston of the Chiefs, Connor Barwin of the Eagles, Tamba Hali of the Chiefs, C.J. Mosley of the Ravens and Lawrence Timmons of the Steelers; cornerbacks Aqib Talib of the Broncos, Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie of the Cardinals and Sam Shields of the Packers; safeties Donte Whitney of the Browns, Glover Quin of the Lions and Antoine Bethea and the 49ers.
Long snapper L.P. LaDouceur of the Cowboys rounded out Team Carter.
Irvin added: quarterback Matthew Stafford of the Lions and Matt Ryan of the Falcons; running backs Mark Ingram of the Saints and C.J. Anderson of the Broncos; wide receivers Odell Beckham of the Giants, Emmanuel Sanders of the Broncos, Randall Cobb of the Packers and Golden Tate of the Lions; tight ends Jimmy Graham of the Saints and Jason Witten of the Cowboys; offensive tackles Joe Thomas of the Browns, Tyron Smith of the Cowboys and Trent Williams of the Redskins.
Irvin's defensive selections were defensive ends DeMarcus Ware of the Broncos, Cameron Wake of the Dolphins and Robert Quinn of the Rams; linebackers Von Miller of the Broncos, Clay Matthews of the Packers, Elvis Dumervil of the Ravens, D'Qwell Jackson of the Colts and Luke Kuechly of the Panthers; cornerbacks Brent Grims of the Dolphins, Vontae Davis of the Colts and Chris Harris of the Broncos; safeties T.J. Ward of the Broncos, Mike Adams of the Colts and Eric Weddle of the Chargers.
"This is what the fans want see," Miller said. "They want to see a team get picked step-by-step. It has some of the same similarities that the (NFL) draft does. The excitement. You get the fans involved."
The long snapper for Team Irvin is veteran Jon Dorenbos of the Eagles.
In a new wrinkle to the game, the coaching staffs were the final picks of the Pro Bowl Draft and Carter went with John Harbaugh and the coaches from the Ravens, while Jason Garrett and the Cowboys' coaching staff will guide the Team Irvin Pro Bowl team.
This marks the sixth consecutive year in which the Pro Bowl will be held one week prior to the Super Bowl, thereby removing members of the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, who will meet in Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Az. on Feb. 1.
The 44-man teams are comprised of 21 offensive and 18 defensive players plus five specialists. Each player on the winning Pro Bowl team receives $55,000, while each on the losing end earns $28,000.
The '15 Pro Bowl is the first to be played in Arizona and will be just the third time the game is being held in the same venue as the Super Bowl (Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 1967 and Miami's Sun Life Stadium, 2010).
The Pro Bowl as held consecutively from 1980 to 2009 at Honolulu's Aloha Stadium, moved to Sun Life Stadium in South Florida in 2010 and then returned to Hawaii in 2011 until last season.
Prior to the AFL-NFL merger, the leagues held separate All-Star games after the season from 1961-69. The NFL had its own Pro Bowl from 1951-60, while the league champion competed against an assembled group of top players between 1938-42.
PRO BOWL PRIMER
-Despite criticism, the Pro Bowl does remain a modest success as a television vehicle, with last year's encounter being watched by an average of 11.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched All-Star game in American sports for the fifth consecutive year. That, however, was down from the 12.2 million viewers the game received under a traditional conference format in '13 as well as the 12.5 million viewers in '12.
-The media now chooses two MVPs, an offensive and defensive standout. Each MVP will be presented with a new GMC vehicle, and an MVP medallion to commemorate the achievement.
-A two-minute warning has been added to the first and third quarters and the ball will change hands after each quarter. This is expected to increase the opportunities for quarterbacks to direct more two-minute drills.
-No Kickoffs: The coin toss will determine which team is awarded possession first. The ball will be placed on the 25-yard line at the start of each quarter and after scoring plays.
-The defense will be permitted to play cover-2 or press coverage. In the conference format days, only man coverage was permitted, except on goal-line situations.
-Beginning at the two-minute mark of every quarter, if the offense does not gain at least one yard, the clock will stop as if the play were an incomplete pass. This rule was enacted to make the team with the ball attempt to gain yardage toward the end of each quarter.
-The game clock will start after an incomplete pass on the signal of the referee, except inside the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half.
-A 35-second/25-second play clock will be adopted instead of the typical 40- second/25-second clock.
-The game clock will not stop on quarterback sacks outside of the final two minutes of the game. Currently, the game clock stops in these situations outside of two minutes of the second and fourth quarters.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Team Carter 33, Team Irvin 30