Sunday, February 04, 2001

Pro Bowl place for offensive stars to shine

Players, rules provide expectation for lots of points

The Associated Press

Corey Dillon plays with daughter Cameron on the practice field in Honolulu.
(AP photo)
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        HONOLULU — Dennis Green and Jon Gruden, who watched a pair of dominating defenses eliminate their teams from the Super Bowl chase three weeks ago, look forward to some fireworks today in the Pro Bowl (5:30 p.m. EST, ABC).

        The talent on their respective rosters and Pro Bowl rules should see to that.

        “There's nothing wrong with having great offenses,” said Green, the Minnesota Vikings' coach who will guide the NFC. “This game is made for the players to show their skill. It's not as much scheme as it is the skill of the players. I think it will be a wide-open game.”

        Last year's certainly was, although the star, Minnesota wide receiver Randy Moss, won't play this time because of bruised ribs. Moss had nine catches for 212 yards — both records — as the NFC beat the AFC 51-31 in the highest-scoring Pro Bowl.

        “It runs in cycles,” said Gruden, the Oakland Raiders coach who is mindful of the AFC's 23-10 win two years ago in Green's other Pro Bowl coaching assignment. “There's often been a lot of offense. But I see guys like Ray Lewis, Junior Seau, Rod Woodson, Sam Adams, and I'm not so sure. There's a lot of talent defensively, too.”

        Lewis, the NFL defensive player of the year, was the MVP in the Ravens' 34-7 Super Bowl victory the New York last Sunday in a game where the teams combined for 21 punts and 393 total yards.

        The starting quarterbacks are familiar with the respective systems, since Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper calls signals for the NFC and Oakland's Rich Gannon for the AFC. Both had terrific seasons, when they combined for over 7,300 passing yards and 61 touchdown throws.

        Backing up Culpepper are Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, second to Marshall Faulk in the regular-season MVP voting, and San Francisco's Jeff Garcia. Indianapolis' Peyton Manning and Kansas City's Elvis Grbac are the reserve AFC quarterbacks.

        Faulk is also sitting out the game because of injury, as is St. Louis teammate Isaac Bruce, chosen to start opposite Moss at wide receiver. However, the NFC seems in good hands with Cris Carter, Terrell Owens, Joe Horn and Torrey Holt.

        Among the AFC wideouts are Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith, who caught three scoring passes in last year's game — two from Manning. Smith is joined by Marvin Harrison, Eric Moulds and Rod Smith.

        The Bengals' only representative, Corey Dillon, is a backup running back for the AFC.

        Among the AFC starters is 35-year-old Miami defensive end Trace Armstrong, a first-time Pro Bowl player, who said winning is important, no matter what people might think.

        “Heck, yeah it is,” he said. “You want to win, you want to play well. You don't want to look bad. The guys have been talking about wanting to win since the first night. There's a line that's probably not going to be crossed in the game, but everybody's going to play hard.”

        Armstrong realizes it will be tough on the defenses because of the rules. Among them are standard 4-3 defenses; a ban on linebackers blitzing in most situations, and a minimum of pass coverages allowed.

        Among the NFC starters is guard Randall McDaniel, who will be playing in his 12th Pro Bowl, breaking the record he shared with Reggie White.

        The NFC has a 16-14 lead in the series since the Pro Bowl went to its present format in 1971.

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