Pro Bowlers pull out tricks, hints of stiff competition
By OSKAR GARCIA
HONOLULU — Pro Bowlers practicing one last time Saturday before the schoolyard pickup all-star game dropped hints they’ll use some trickery to get an edge today.
On one play, Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack streaked into the end zone at Aloha Stadium, not fast enough to catch a pass targeted his way.
Indianapolis long-snapper Matt Overton later busted out a behind-the-back snap — a spiraling line drive caught by St. Louis punter Johnny Hekker about 10 yards away, where a slot receiver might line up.
Mack says the potential catch wasn’t meant for him. He describes it as a “last case scenario” for the team picked by NFL great Deion Sanders.
“It’s super top-secret — I can’t talk about it,” Mack said.
Jerry Rice’s team later finished practice by huddling up and shouting “Get money,” a reference to the five-figure pay bonus winners get in the game.
“The worst pressure I’m getting is from the other team: ‘Hey, let’s take it easy on each other,’” Miami defensive end Cameron Wake told fans. “But they got another thing coming.”
Ray Anderson, the NFL’s outgoing executive vice president of football operations, said he hopes that up-tempo practices, talk and encouragement from Sanders, Rice and coaches will lead to a better game Sunday.
“Certainly there’s some competitive talking going back and forth,” he said.
Kansas City Jamaal Charles offered to line up at wide receiver when he was selected to the Pro Bowl. On Saturday, Drew Brees ran one play that looked a lot like an option, pitching the ball to Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. On another play, Larry Fitzgerald ran the ball on a sweep along the right side.
“Anytime you play for the probably the greatest player to ever put on cleats, it’s a good thing,” said Fitzgerald, who was assigned to Rice’s team after the other seven receivers were picked beforehand.
Anderson said he thinks the game will be improved in part because players suggested the change that models the game partly after fantasy football.
“There’s always a certain amount of pride that comes along with being a captain and also picking sides. You want to win,” said Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, a captain for Sanders’ team who lined up as a wide receiver in last year’s all-star game.
Watt said after signing dozens of autographs and taking selfie photographs with kids in the crowd that picking the teams was fun, but also serious.
“We didn’t get here by not being competitive so we’re always trying to win everything we do,” Watt said.
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