With 44 new­bies, Pro Bowl could be more in­tense than usual

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY MARK LONG As­so­ci­ated Press

Chicago Bears safety and Pro Bowl new­comer Ed­die Jack­son posed the same ques­tion to sev­eral vet­er­ans this week: What’s the tempo of prac­tices and the game?

“They told me, ‘If you go out there and pull a ham­string, you’re go­ing too hard,’ ” Jack­son said.

It wasn’t ex­actly the de­fin­i­tive an­swer Jack­son was look­ing for, but it gave him some in­sight into what to ex­pect and how to per­form in the league’s an­nual all-star event Sun­day.

There’s no guar­an­tee ev­ery­one else will play at a sim­i­lar pace.

With 44 play­ers ap­pear­ing in the Pro Bowl for the first time – half of the AFC and NFC ros­ters – it’s any­one’s guess how in­tense the game will be. It has looked more like two-hand touch than hard-nosed foot­ball in re­cent years, draw­ing some crit­i­cism.

But last year’s event was far from a laugher.

The AFC ral­lied in the rain, over­com­ing a 20-3 deficit and win­ning 24-23 at Camp­ing World Sta­dium in Or­lando. Play­ers cel­e­brated wildly on the side­line, in the end zone and in the locker room, even chant­ing about dou­bling their pay­checks.

“Ev­ery­one knows the slo­gan ‘money talks,’ ” Philadel­phia Ea­gles of­fen­sive tackle Lane John­son said. “Well, it’ll prob­a­bly be talk­ing dur­ing the game.”

The win­ners earn $67,000 each, $8,000 more than the play­ers who lose the Su­per Bowl a week later. The Pro Bowl losers get $39,000 apiece.

The of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive MVPs each land a lux­ury ve­hi­cle, a perk New York Gi­ants run­ning back Saquon Barkley has made clear to team­mates he cov­ets.

“I know for a fact that Saquon is aware that there’s an MVP car that’s avail­able,” Gi­ants team­mate and safety/spe­cial teams ace Mike Thomas said. “I ex­pect guys will turn it up later in the game. But know­ing we’re com­pet­ing for MVP, how soon will it start?”

Jack­sonville Jaguars de­fen­sive end Calais Camp­bell, an 11-year veteran play­ing in his third all-star game, re­called his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2015. Buf­falo Bills de­fen­sive tackle Kyle Wil­liams told Camp­bell to “slooooow down” dur­ing prac­tice and then op­pos­ing quar­ter­back Tony Romo had more ad­vice be­fore kick­off.

“I re­mem­ber Tony Romo told me, ‘What­ever you do, be gen­tle. My back’s kind of tight,’ ” Camp­bell said. “And I re­mem­ber grab­bing him and he shook me off and threw a pass. It was in­com­plete, but I was like, ‘You told me to be nice and then you break my tackle!’ I was hurt.”

It didn’t take Camp­bell long in prac­tice to see this year could be dif­fer­ent. Cor­ner­back Jalen Ram­sey, safeties Ja­mal Adams and Der­win James and oth­ers at­tacked light prac­tice like reg­u­lar-sea­son games.

“We have a young crowd, so guys are go­ing a lit­tle harder,” Camp­bell said. “They’re hun­gry. They want to get it, which I ap­pre­ci­ate it.’”

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