Quarles To Play In Pro Bowl

January 31 – Tampa Bay middle linebacker Shelton Quarles was arguably the unsung hero of the Buccaneers' defense in 2002, but he'll be recognized in this Sunday's Pro Bowl game in Honolulu, Hawaii. Quarles, who will join six of his teammates on the NFC squad, will replace Atlanta MLB Keith Brooking, who suffered a strained hamstring during Thursday's workout. Oddly enough, Quarles didn't have to travel far since he was already in Hawaii on vacation.

Tampa Bay middle linebacker Shelton Quarles was arguably the unsung hero of the Buccaneers' defense last season.

It is, after all, difficult to receive a lot of recognition when you're playing with the likes of Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp.

But on Friday, Quarles learned he will be recognized as an all-star this Sunday when he takes the field with Brooks, Lynch and Rice for the Pro Bowl in Aloha Stadium.

Quarles was named to the Pro Bowl as a replacement after Atlanta MLB Keith Brooking strained a hamstring during Thursday's practice. Quarles finished third in Pro Bowl voting, which made him first alternate behind starting Chicago MLB Brian Urlacher and Brooking.

But Quarles didn't have to scramble to get to Hawaii. Oddly enough, he just happened to be in Hawaii on vacation with his family. In fact, waiting for his equipment to arrive was the only obstacle Quarles had to overcome due to the short notice. But several Bucs staff members gathered Quarles' equipment from his locker room inside of One Buccaneer Place and shipped it overnight to Hawaii.

Quarles was reluctant to visit Hawaii as a non-Pro Bowler. He wanted his first trip to Honolulu to be as an all-star, but his wife, Damaris, and some of his Pro Bowl teammates talked him in to taking the vacation. As it turns out, Quarles' decision to take the furlough worked out everyone.

"I told my wife awhile back that, even if I had an opportunity to come out here, I wouldn't come while I was still a player," said Quarles. "The only way I would come out here is if I made it in the Pro Bowl. We both wanted to go because neither of us had been here before, but that was the only way I was going to Hawaii.

"Derrick (Brooks) gave us an opportunity to come here. I was kind of reluctant, but I said I guess we'll go out there just to spend some time with him and congratulate him on his big season. Then this came to fruition and, as it turned out, it made my statement that I wouldn't come out here until I was playing the game true. So it all worked out well."

With Brooking out, Quarles' selection gives Tampa Bay seven Pro Bowl picks from the 2002 season. Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp elected not to make the trip to Hawaii for Sunday's game. Instead, he will undergo minor surgery on his left knee within the next few days.

Quarles is the only one of the seven Bucs players that has not played in the Pro Bowl before.

Quarles and Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson, who was also added to the Pro Bowl squad last week after Atlanta QB Michael Vick elected to have offseason surgery, will be the only two Tampa Bay players that don't start on Sunday. Bucs fullback Mike Alstott, Brooks, Lynch and Rice will start Sunday for the NFC team.

In his first year as Tampa Bay's starting middle linebacker, Quarles was impressive. He recorded a career-high 159 tackles, two interceptions and he defensed five passes. Although he's undersized (6-1, 225 pounds), Quarles played a big part stopping the run last season. Tampa Bay's defense finished 2002 ranked No. 1 overall and No. 5 against the run.

Quarles is one of three starters on Tampa Bay's defense that will become an unrestricted free agent on February 28. Although the team would like to re-sign free safety Dexter Jackson and strongside linebacker Al Singleton, the Bucs will likely make Quarles its No. 1 priority in terms of re-signing. The team may even sign Quarles to a long-term deal before he has the opportunity to test the free agent waters.

On Friday, Quarles sounded confident he'd be back in a Bucs uniform next season.

"I look forward to playing next year and having an opportunity to make more plays," said Quarles. "I think next year I'll be just a little bit more comfortable in our scheme and I'll be able to make a few more plays."

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