NFL NOTEBOOK: Rice picks Brees, Quinn
HONOLULU — NFL great Jerry Rice is already bucking conventional fantasy football wisdom in a new Pro Bowl format inspired by the popular hobby.
Rice picked New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn to anchor his Pro Bowl team on Tuesday, opting for a passer over a runner.
Rice made the selections in Hawaii after winning a coin toss against Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders. Rice called tails.
The decision prompted Sanders to select Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles and Houston defensive end J.J. Watt for Sunday’s game.
“Don’t think we forget Jerry picked them first,” Watt said when asked whether the new schoolyard-style format would leave players with bruised egos.
The toss and selections started a new process for the NFL in selecting this year’s Pro Bowl teams. Rice and Sanders are serving as captains and general managers in charge of divvying up the NFL stars.
“I’m so pumped — I’m ready to run some routes,” Rice said at a news conference after winning the toss, picking his players and embracing them as active player captains.
“That’s exactly how I thought it was going to go,” Sanders said.
The toss gave Sanders and Rice another chance for good-natured trash talk in a game that’s become as much about showcasing their personalities as celebrating the accomplishments of the NFL’s best.
Rice and Sanders split up interior lineman, punters, fullbacks and special teamers during the first part of the draft, with the 22 picks announced on a tape-delayed show. Rice and Sanders went position by position, skipping the usual fantasy strategy of prioritizing positions — an element that will be in play today when the rest of the 60 players are divvied up.
Sanders picked Ndamukong Suh with his first defensive tackle selection, and then opted for Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. Rice grabbed Jason Hatcher and Marcell Dareus, and was assigned Kyle Williams.
Among guards, Rice picked two of Brees’ New Orleans teammates, Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, along with Evan Mathis. Sanders picked Marshal Yanda and Logan Mankins and was assigned Kyle Long.
Centers Mike Pouncey and Alex Mack went to Sanders, while Ryan Kalil and Nick Mangold went to Rice. Rice picked Mike Tolbert at fullback while Sanders got Marcel Reece.
Sanders said Reece will not get the ball. “He’s blocking for that man over there,” Sanders said, pointing toward Charles.
Punter Johnny Hekker and special teamer Justin Bethel ended up on team Rice, while Sanders picked punter Brandon Fields and special teamer Matthew Slater.
The Pro Bowl coaches, Chuck Pagano of Indianapolis for Team Sanders and Ron Rivera of Carolina for Team Rice, selected long snappers as a need position.
Pagano went with Carolina’s J.J. Jansen and Rivera responded in kind, going with Matt Overton of the Colts.
The second part of the draft will air live on the NFL Network.
NFL officials are hoping the new format is a recipe for a more competitive game on the field and higher ratings as the bulk of league fans look toward the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
Brees said players know how to balance the demands of playing hard and avoiding injury.
“What it comes down to is just pride — pride in your effort and your performance,” Brees said.
LIONS: Detroit hired Joe Lombardi as offensive coordinator, the team announced Tuesday.
Lombardi, grandson of Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, has been an offensive assistant for New Orleans since 2007. He was hired as quarterbacks coach in 2009, the season the Saints won their only Super Bowl over the Indianapolis Colts, who were then coached by current Lions coach Jim Caldwell. Saints quarterback Drew Brees has passed for more than 5,000 yards in a season three times with Lombardi as his position coach.
Lombardi’s first NFL job was with the Atlanta Falcons as a defensive assistant in 2007. He also coached in the XFL for the New York-New Jersey Hitmen. Lombardi also worked at Dayton, Virginia Military Institute, Bucknell and Mercyhurst.
FALCONS: Tight end Tony Gonzalez was named to his 14th and final Pro Bowl as a replacement for San Francisco’s Vernon Davis.
The Falcons had a disappointing 4-12 finish after the 37-year-old Gonzalez postponed his retirement for one year. He trails only Jerry Rice in career catches and ranks fifth in yards receiving and sixth in touchdown catches.
BUCCANEERS: Tampa Bay hired Arizona Cardinals front-office executive Jason Licht to help coach Lovie Smith transform a team that hasn’t won a playoff game in more than a decade into a championship contender.
The struggling franchise plans to formally introduce Licht as the fifth GM in club history at a news conference Thursday.
VIKINGS: Minnesota’s Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit challenging the funding plan for a new Vikings football stadium, eliminating a legal obstacle that threatened a last-minute derailment of the project.
ELSEWHERE: Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron tweeted his support for Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman, who has received criticism for his rant against San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree following Seattle’s victory over the 49ers in Sunday’s NFC championship game.
Aaron told Sherman to “hang in there & keep playing as well as you did Sunday. Excellent job — you have my support.”
Sherman thanked Aaron in a tweet, saying “your support is greatly appreciated and very humbling.”