Ravens have five named to Pro Bowl

OWINGS MILLS -- In a slightly bittersweet twist to the Pro Bowl balloting announced Tuesday, the AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens had five players named to the annual all-star game amid complaints about the exclusion of middle linebacker Ray Lewis and a few others.

While safety Ed Reed, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and outside linebacker Adalius Thomas made the team as starters and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and cornerback Chris McAlister will head to Hawaii as reserves, Lewis, tight end Todd Heap, kicker Matt Stover and special-teams ace Gary Stills were alternate choices. The alternates could only play in the game if one of the players listed ahead of them is injured or chooses not to play in the Feb. 10 all-star game in Honolulu. Denver Broncos linebacker Al Wilson and Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas made the AFC squad over Lewis, a seven-time All-Pro and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"You've got to ask yourself, 'How does the best defensive player in the league not get chosen for the Pro Bowl?'" said Suggs, who had nine sacks. "We didn't have him last year and we went 6-10. He played in every game this year but two, and we're 11-3.

"So, you have to ask yourself, ‘What are they really watching?' He's still the best in my book, and he don't need a Pro Bowl selection to decide that, either."

Lewis' surprising omission, along with four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce and standout inside linebacker Bart Scott, stunned Suggs and Thomas.

Lewis registered a team-high 142 tackles, according to the Ravens' coaches' film review, along with 3 ½ sacks and two interceptions. However, Lewis was only credited with 91 tackles by the NFL as Thomas has posted 142 to lead the league. Tackles are not an official statistic. In 2003 when the Ravens won their only other AFC North title and finished 10-6, they had a franchise-record eight Pro Bowl selections. They were surprised to have just five this season with one more victory than that season with two games left to play.

"I think we've been slept on the whole year, and that cost some guys from going," Suggs said. "But they only have so many at each position go, and we kind of knew they wouldn't let us monopolize the Pro Bowl."

This marks Thomas and Suggs' second Pro Bowl selections. It's Thomas' first time being named as a defensive player after being selected for kick coverage in 2003.

Known for his versatility with his ability to line up at linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle and safety, Thomas has 10 ½ sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

"It just goes to show you that hard work really pays off," said Thomas, a former sixth-round draft pick from Southern Mississippi. "Going from special teams and all the doubters out there that said I couldn't play: ‘You're too big, you're too small, you couldn't do this,' that's why you play the game."

Regarded as hard to categorize because he's moved around so much by defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, Thomas' breakthrough season drew enough attention from a voting system split between fans, players and coaches.

"I think we cleared that up in the beginning of the year," Thomas said. "I'm an outside linebacker in our system, but in everybody else's system, I would be playing something else. You play well enough, people start to recognize you. If you're good enough, they'll find somewhere to put you."

Despite recording 122 tackles, 9 ½ sacks and two interceptions and being named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month in September, Scott was snubbed.

A former undrafted free agent from Division I-AA Southern Illinois, Scott has only been a full-time starter since last season. Plus, he might be unpopular with opponents because of his penchant for trash-talking.

"That's something that you'll probably have to go back and look at it, I think Bart had the most sacks as an inside ‘backer," Thomas said. "It makes you want to go back and work harder and be even better, come back even stronger for next year."

Pryce didn't make the Pro Bowl despite leading the Ravens with 12 sacks, 1 ½ less than Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel, one more than Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl defensive end Derrick Burgess and a half-sack less than Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor.

This was the most sacks Pryce has posted since 2000 when he finished fourth in the voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"That was really surprising, I think he was a victim that he plays two positions," Suggs said. "He plays defensive end, but he spends most of his time at defensive tackle. I think it really hindered him that he does both jobs, but that's just our scheme.

"Ask people who guard Trevor. He's a force to be reckoned with. I haven't seen anybody that can block him yet."

Stover didn't make it despite converting 23 of 25 field goals along with Stills, who leads the NFL with a career-high 40 special teams tackles. Heap, who leads Baltimore with 64 receptions and six touchdowns, had perhaps the stiffest competition behind San Diego's Antonio Gates and Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez, the two tight ends named to the Pro Bowl.

This is the third Pro Bowl for McAlister, who has intercepted five passes and established himself again as a shutdown cornerback. It represents the third Pro Bowl for Reed, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year who has intercepted four passes.

Ogden made the Pro Bowl for the 10th time after missing training camp for personal reasons following his father's death.

"He's hands down the best tackle, probably ever, to play the game," Suggs said. "You can ask Shawne Merriman who he thinks the best tackle to ever play the game is. "Everybody knows that J.O. goes every year. They call it the Jonathan Ogden Invitational here." For Thomas, who's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season and is expected to be one of the most highly sought-after commodities, the timing of the Pro Bowl recognition couldn't have been much better "It's always a good time to make the Pro Bowl, free agent or not," Thomas said. "But it's a great time to make it."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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