The Washington Redskins reaped the rewards yesterday of being in first place and having the NFL's second-ranked offense. Running back Stephen Davis, quarterback Brad Johnson and guard Tre Johnson were named to the NFC Pro Bowl team as backups.
It was the first career Pro Bowl selection for each. Two other members of the Redskins' offense, fullback Larry Centers and tight end Stephen Alexander, didn't make the NFC squad but are the first alternates at their positions, meaning each could end up in Hawaii in February if another player at their position is injured or elects not to play. Rookie Champ Bailey is the NFC's third alternate at cornerback.
"It shows that our offense is getting some respect," Centers said.
Although wide receiver Michael Westbrook, who is having a career-best season, was overlooked, it's the first time since the 1991 season that the Redskins have had three or more offensive players picked for the Pro Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 6 in Honolulu. Tre Johnson is the club's first Pro Bowl offensive lineman since tackle Jim Lachey and guard Mark Schlereth in '91. The team last had a Pro Bowl running back (Terry Allen) and quarterback (Gus Frerotte) in 1996.
"We have a great offense [and] great chemistry this year," Tre Johnson said. "Everybody makes everybody look good."
Said Redskins offensive line coach Russ Grimm, a former Pro Bowl guard: "Any time the team does well, the individual awards will come."
Fans, players and coaches voted on the selections, with each group's picks counting one-third.
Davis is the NFL's leading rusher with 1,405 yards, a single-season team record, but will play behind the St. Louis Rams' Marshall Faulk. The Dallas Cowboys' Emmitt Smith also was selected as a reserve at running back. Also a strong receiver, Faulk leads the league with 2,065 total yards from scrimmage, 549 more than Davis.
"I knew if I had the right opportunity, I could take advantage of it," Davis said. ". . . I'm a team guy. All the guys on the field have helped me get there."
Davis has been one of the league's biggest success stories this season. He had only 815 rushing yards in three NFL seasons entering training camp, during which he won the starting tailback job over Skip Hicks. He has had his breakthrough season at an opportune time--he's eligible for unrestricted free agency in the offseason.
"He came out of nowhere to become probably the best running back in the NFL," Redskins guard Keith Sims said.
Brad Johnson and the Carolina Panthers' Steve Beuerlein will back up the Rams' Kurt Warner. Johnson has become a Pro Bowler a year after losing the Minnesota Vikings' starting job to Randall Cunningham. He was traded to the Redskins in February for first-, second- and third-round draft choices, a deal that drew some criticism from observers who felt Johnson wasn't worth that much. He is having his best NFL season, with 3,459 passing yards and 22 touchdown throws.
"It's a nice honor, especially after going through the year I went through last year and two [offseason] knee surgeries," he said. "It was nice to get an opportunity here."
He also has answered the questions about his ability to stay healthy by starting every game this season.
"I've beaten those odds," Johnson said. "I feel healthy right now. I feel like I'm throwing the ball with good velocity."
Tre Johnson will back up the Cowboys' Larry Allen and the Vikings' Randall McDaniel. In his sixth NFL season, he has stayed healthy and been the anchor of an offensive line that has created running room for Davis and kept Brad Johnson upright.
"It's very satisfying," Tre Johnson said. "It's the best Christmas present I could have got. . . . I was hoping. You never expect [it]. . . . I've built up a reputation over time. Staying healthy was big. People are seeing me do my thing consistently. I think this is my best year as a pro."
Said Centers: "I'm most happy for Tre. I think he played at a Pro Bowl level for a number of years. He's finally getting the recognition he deserves."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Alstott is the NFC's Pro Bowl fullback.
"I feel like the second-to-last lady in the Miss America pageant," said Centers, who leads the Redskins with 58 receptions. "She has to act like she's happy. . . . I'm not surprised. I don't think I had a Pro Bowl season. To be a Pro Bowl player, you have to have the defense in fear every week. I don't think I established that. But it lets me know there's some respect for me in the league."
Alexander has a modest 25 catches in an injury-plagued season but will be next in line behind the two NFC Pro Bowl tight ends, starter Wesley Walls of the Panthers and backup David Sloan of the Detroit Lions.
"To be recognized as one of the top players at your position, that's awesome," Alexander said. "Even when I was healthy, the numbers haven't been great. I've been kind of unfortunate this year. I thought I had no shot."
Bailey did not complain about drawing fewer votes from the players and coaches after finishing second among NFC cornerbacks in the fans' balloting. The three cornerbacks on the NFC squad are the Cowboys' Deion Sanders, the Rams' Todd Lyght and the Arizona Cardinals' Aeneas Williams.
"Considering all the competition, to be an alternate in my first year is an honor," Bailey said.
Westbrook took being overlooked in stride.
"I stopped thinking I was going to the Pro Bowl about four weeks ago, when I hurt my wrist," said Westbrook, who is playing with a broken bone in his wrist but is having a career-best season with 55 catches and eight touchdowns. ". . . I obviously was slowed down by my wrist injury. I tried to hang in there [but] the season I'm having is not up to my standards."