"It also makes it more of a fact that we need to make the playoffs with eight Pro Bowlers."
All of the Ravens' Pro Bowlers are in their prime. Each of the all-stars is a former first-round draft pick of general manager Ozzie Newsome except for injured special-teams ace Adalius Thomas, a sixth-round find. Thursday's post-practice announcement at M&T Bank Stadium from coach Brian Billick illustrated the depth on a roster that includes perennial All-Pros in offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis along with repeat choices in outside linebacker Peter Boulware and tight end Todd Heap. "I remember this feeling from when we had almost the same number of guys and we won the Super Bowl," Ray Lewis said. "To see it again is a blessing. The beauty of it is that every guy going is under 30 years old."
Ogden made the AFC squad for the seventh consecutive year. Lewis made it for the sixth time after a one-year hiatus caused by a shoulder injury. This will be Boulware's fourth appearance and Heap's second in a row.
It was far from routine, though, for cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Ed Reed, first-time choices along with Jamal Lewis and Thomas. McAlister, 26, was concerned that he wouldn't make the Pro Bowl because of unwanted notoriety from off-field incidents. A driving under the influence charge was dismissed. The club's franchise player was benched against San Diego for violating curfew and missing a team meeting before kickoff. However, McAlister began a string of shutdowns of accomplished receivers ranging from the St. Louis Rams' Torry Holt, San Francisco 49ers All-Pro Terrell Owens, chatty Bengals wideout Chad Johnson, Denver's Rod Smith and Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith. Holt caught three passes for 38 yards. Owens caught three passes for 23 yards. Johnson only caught two passes for 15 yards. Neither Smith was able to gain much separation with the 6-foot-1, 206-pounder shadowing them all over the football field.
McAlister had to wait for Billick to finish listing Pro Bowl alternates, including kicker Matt Stover, and several others before his name was called. "I got real choked up, it felt like everything that I went through this year was worth it," McAlister said. "I was supposed to suffer and be in the situations I was in for a reason. The reward of it was to get to the Pro Bowl. It helped me gain focus."
Reed has intercepted six passes this season and has 11 in 30 career games. He blocked two punts and returned both for touchdowns. An apprentice of fellow University of Miami football alum Ray Lewis, Reed spends a lot of time studying game film at Lewis' house. "They say if you hang around dogs, you might catch fleas," Lewis said. "I guess if you hang out with me, you'll be eating some pineapples. I'm really happy for Ed."
A grueling rehabilitation of his surgically repaired shoulder paid dividends for Lewis. He leads the team with 198 tackles, has five interceptions and garnered mention as an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. "You can question my ability but you can't question my heart," Lewis said. "To come back and make the Pro Bowl after surgery, it's one of those things you dream of."
Jamal Lewis has rushed for 1,747 yards, scored 11 touchdowns and is attempting to become the fifth player in NFL history to gain 2,000 yards. He set an NFL single-game record of 295 yards in September against the Browns, Sunday's opponent. "I am not really shocked," Lewis said. "Hopefully, it's the first of many." Boulware has 7 ½ sacks with three forced fumbles. Heap has caught a team-high 55 passes for 678 yards in a run-oriented team that has used three different quarterbacks. Thomas leads Baltimore with 23 special-teams tackles and blocked a punt before his season ended when he fractured his elbow. The first draft pick in team history, the 6-9, 340-pound Ogden was picked fourth overall in the 1996 NFL draft that also brought Ray Lewis to Baltimore. His seventh Pro Bowl in a row qualifies him as the dean among NFL blockers. "It's a tribute to everyone around here, the front office," Ogden said. "We've got players that have talent and play hard. It's a good sign of things to come."
NOTE: Baltimore and Cleveland reported no changes to their respective injury reports.
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.