R. Lewis named to eighth Pro Bowl

OWINGS MILLS -- Ray Lewis couldn't hide a touch of sadness and frustration in December after being snubbed for the Pro Bowl, and described the balloting process as crazy. Now, Lewis is headed to Hawaii following his initial exclusion.

The Baltimore Ravens' middle linebacker has been named to his eighth Pro Bowl due to a lingering neck injury suffered by Denver Broncos linebacker Al Wilson. Lewis was named a first alternate when the AFC squad was released, but will now join four members from the NFL's top-ranked defense -- linebackers Adalius Thomas and Terrell Suggs, cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Ed Reed -- along with offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden at the Feb. 10 all-star game.
"It's always a privilege to be voted in to the Pro Bowl, especially when your peers have a voice," Lewis said in a statement. "I think this recognizes what great team defense we played this year with myself, Adalius, Chris, Terrell and Ed representing our team and our city in Hawaii. It is exciting to think about coming back and doing it all again next year with those same guys.
"This league is built on respect, and I truly appreciate the respect from the guys that challenge you every week. I dreamed of many things as a child, but eight Pro Bowls in 11 years, I am truly blessed. I want to thank all of our fans and everyone who supports us." Voting for the Pro Bowl is divided equally between fans, players and coaches.
Lewis led the Ravens with 164 tackles despite missing two games with a back injury that required minor surgery. He registered five sacks, nine pass deflections, two interceptions and one fumble recovery and forced fumble.
"I never played this game for Pro Bowls," Lewis said in December. "Is it sad the way it goes down? Of course. I was around when the voting was right. I was around when you used to vote for guys for what they did and not by whatever comes up.
"Now, it's getting kind of crazy because the league is getting very young. These guys don't know how to vote no more. That's not the way the game should be."
Lewis has been named to the Pro Bowl every year except his rookie season in 1996 along with 2002 (shoulder) and 2005 (torn hamstring) when he ended the season on injured reserve.
When Lewis wasn't named to the Pro Bowl at first, teammates expressed major disappointment.
"You have to ask yourself how the best defensive player in the league did not get chosen for the Pro Bowl," Suggs said. "You have to ask yourself, ‘What are they really watching?' He's still the best in my book."
Lewis was credited with a postseason career-high 23 tackles by team officials in a 15-6 AFC divisional playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, knocking down three passes, including one that would likely have been intercepted by Reed.
The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year rebounded from self-generated controversy last offseason where he complained about his contract, criticized the team's defensive scheme and personnel and issued a much-debated "no comment," when asked about whether coach Brian Billick's retention was a positive. Lewis apologized for his remarks publicly and privately and called teammates to mend fences.
From that point onward, Lewis wasn't involved in any further distractions and appeared to be more content than he had in years as the Ravens won the AFC North title, earned the best regular-season record (13-3) in franchise history and returned to the postseason after a two-season absence.
Lewis has unsuccessfully sought a contract extension following the past two seasons, but has been repeatedly rebuffed by the front office. He's under contract through the end of the 2008 season with a $6.5 million annual salary, which represents a $1 million raise over his 2006 salary.
Plus, the Ravens will potentially commit about $7 million if they are unable to negotiate a contract extension with Thomas and designate him as their franchise player by a Feb. 22 league deadline. Suggs' 2007 salary is up to $5 million after he triggered an escalator clause with his 40th career sack heading into the last year of his rookie deal.
"For me, I've never looked for people to tell me if I'm good or not. I know what I can do," Lewis said in December. "For myself, all I do is lead my troops. That's what I am here for.
"Anybody can make plays. In this business, you ask yourself: Who's a difference maker? I'm a difference maker."
NOTE: Among the draft prospects a delegation of Ravens' scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., have reported interviewed this week: Oklahoma linebacker Rufus Alexander, Texas cornerback Aaron Ross, Ohio State defensive lineman David Patterson and Alabama fullback Le'Ron McClain. ... The Ravens' practice squad contracts with defensive tackles Remi Ayodele and Joe Minucci, offensive tackle Samuel Gutekunst (NFL Europe development program) and linebacker Bobby Iwuchukwu have expired. ... Ogden plans to attend the Pro Bowl, but it's unlikely he'll play due to his injured toe.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times.

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