The league announced this year's Pro Bowl selections on Tuesday, and Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour made the prestigious list again this season. He'll be one of 42 players to represent the AFC in Honolulu on Feb. 10.
Seymour's selection marks the fifth consecutive Pro Bowl berth in his six-year career. He's just the fifth player in the history of the franchise to notch five consecutive Pro Bowl selections, and is the first defensive player to do so since linebacker Andre Tippett, who's a finalist for this year's Hall of Fame induction.
"I think it's still humbling for me at this point," said Seymour on Wednesday. "In this league, you never can take anything for granted. I'm definitely thankful to be in the position I'm in. I've always said I had a blessed start to my career, and hopefully I can continue that the next five years."
Asked to talk about Seymour's contributions to the team, Head Coach Bill Belichick didn't have to think beyond the Patriots most recent game to find an example. He said he thinks the 6-foot-6-inch, 310 pound Seymour's play speaks for itself.
"Last week was a good example," said Belichick. "That play he made in the first quarter, on the interception, was kind of a typical Richard Seymour play."
On the first-down play, Seymour batted a David Carr pass, and turning, made a diving catch on his own tipped ball for an interception.
"[It] shows a lot of athleticism to turn around and find it and make that play kind of over his shoulder," said Belichick. "We've got defensive backs and linebackers, and the ball gets thrown to them and hits them right in the hands and we don't catch it."
Seymour was selected as an interior lineman, though he takes the majority of his reps from the edge at the defensive end position. He'll be starting alongside nine-year veteran defensive tackle Jamal Williams when the AFC takes on the NFC in the hallowed exhibition.
Seymour does bump inside occasionally when the Pats switch to their less-frequently deployed 4-3 defense. But the fact that he was up for selection as an interior lineman meant he was not only pitted against fellow Pats defensive end Ty Warren, who was also viewed as an interior lineman; he was in competition with nose tackle Vince Wilfork for a spot on the AFC's roster as well.
The Patriots starting defensive linemen, all drafted in the first round, have worked well together this season. Seymour, Warren and Wilfork all form the anchor to a defense that currently ranks sixth in the league, has allowed the second-fewest points per game at just 13.8, and has permitted fewer touchdowns than any other defense in the NFL (17).
The Pro Bowl's selection process consists of three parts: fan votes count for one-third, coaches votes count for one-third and players votes make up the last third, though players can't vote for teammates. While the voting is designed to be as fair as possible, issues like Seymour and Warren being balloted as an interior lineman do crop up.
The argument for Warren is a strong one – he's recorded 101 tackles and 6.5 sacks this season with two games to go. Those are impressive numbers given that the Patriots defense is not designed to garner glory for its defensive linemen, who are all asked to take on double-teams frequently. Seymour expressed disappointment that his friend, Ty (or Tiny as many of the players call him) wouldn't be joining him this season, and some Patriots may still be asked to go when other players inevitably bow out. But one can't help but wonder: What would Richard Seymour's stats be like if he were playing alongside himself?
Seymour wouldn't discuss his specific impact on the team, nor would he talk about ways teams have schemed against him in the past – he's far to humble for that. But Belichick and Seymour's teammates know what kind of impact he has when he's in there on defense.
"I think Richard's a guy that is a force out there, in every phase of the game, runs to him, runs away from him, in the passing game," said Belichick. "You know he's a versatile player. [He's] blocked kicks for us. He's one of our captains, so I think he's a guy that's obviously well respected on this team, both on and off the field. He's a smart guy and is an experienced player, and he's made a lot of big plays for us."
"He pretty much runs the field when he's out there," said fellow defensive lineman Mike Wright, who credited his own success this season to being able to work with the three starters. "He's a presence. Everybody in the league knows about him and probably dreads going against him, and that's why he's in his fifth [Pro Bowl]."
Asked if he was disappointed not to see Wilfork and Warren on the Pro Bowl list, Wright stuck by his teammates, and even offered an explanation as to why they were all competing as interior linemen.
"Both those guys have really produced this year and done what they needed to do, in my opinion, to make the Pro Bowl. But it's obviously a popularity game or contest or whatever. It's great that Seymour made it, but I obviously feel that Ty and Vince really deserve to be in there. That's too bad.
"I think that they put [Warren] in the interior because of how physical he plays. You know he doesn't look like an end at all, and he's not a speed rusher by any means. He powers through you and he plays with his physical ability as much as possible, so I think that's why they put him down in there."
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It seems the Patriots defensive linemen are all just too physical to be viewed as your every-day, run-of-the-mill defensive ends, which stands as a credit to them all.
While it's a disappointment that more of the Pats starting defensive linemen weren't selected to the Pro Bowl, there are simply too few spots on each conference's roster to please everyone.
Heck, quarterback Tom Brady, who's been to the last two Pro Bowls and was also selected in 2001, was edged out of the voting by Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers.
Brady said Wednesday "it matters very little" to him that he didn't make it, and offered his thoughts on other deserving players who weren't selected.
"There are a lot of good football players in this league," he said. "When some guy makes it and another guy doesn't, it's hard to say the guy who made it shouldn't have been there. Just because you're not on the team doesn't mean you're not a Pro Bowl-type player. There are only a certain amount of spots. A guy like Vince [Wilfork], you're right, guys like Vince and Ty [Warren] and Asante [Samuel] and Larry [Izzo], there are some really quality football players that we have. If other people who vote don't have the respect for this team, I think we're kind of used to that. After what we've accomplished, maybe people just choose not to vote [for us]."
The Patriots practiced outside on one of their upper practice fields today. Practice squad receiver Bam Childress was wearing a black jersey, indicating that he was last week's Practice Player of the Week. The team gathered in a massive huddle after stretching, and broke the huddle by shouting "Homework." The only players not seen on the field during the portion of practice available to the media were Vince Wilfork and Benjamin Watson. Neither Wilfork nor Watson played in last week's game, and both are listed as "Questionable" on this week's injury report. Safety Rodney Harrison's status was upgraded to "Questionable" for this week's game. … Jacksonville's injury report includes Jags top running back Fred Taylor, who's listed as "Questionable," and his chief alternate, Maurice Jones-Drew, who's listed as "Probable."