OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are sending six players to the 2013 Pro Bowl, four of whom will be starters in Honolulu.
Return specialist Jacoby Jones, safety Ed Reed, fullback Vonta Leach, and right guard Marshal Yanda were all named starters while running back Ray Rice and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata were named reserves for the AFC roster.
Jones said he first thought he could make the Pro Bowl when he returned his second kickoff for a touchdown of the season against Oakland in Week 10. His 32.1 yards per kick return average is the best in the NFL as the wide receiver has returned kickoffs of 108 and 105 yards for scores this season.
“Returning kicks is like I’m playing ‘It,’ or ‘Catch me if you can,’ You miss and I’m gone,” the first-time selection said. “[The selection] means a lot. It means you’re one of the elite of the elite. It’s hard to do and takes a lot of consistency and hard work.”
Signed to a two-year, $7 million after being kicked to the curb by the Houston Texans in the offseason, Jones immediately felt right at home in Baltimore, where he has quickly earned a reputation as a popular teammate and one of the funniest personalities in the locker room.
In addition to his two kickoff returns for touchdowns, Jones’ 63-yard punt return for a touchdown in Pittsburgh was the Ravens’ only touchdown in a 13-10 win over their hated rival on Nov. 18.
“I had a chance to get a breath of fresh air,” Jones said. “As soon as I walked in the door, they told me to be myself and they’d give me an opportunity. Through the year, I’ve tried to make the plays when my number was called.”
Leach was named to his second Pro Bowl as a member of the Ravens and third overall as he’s paved the way for another 1,000-yard season for Rice. Finishing his ninth season, Leach has not only been a powerful blocker but he’s caught 20 passes for 141 yards.
Rice has credited Leach for his assistance in taking his game to the next level over the last two seasons.
“The relationship we have is bigger than football,” Rice said. “That guy is nine years of battering people around. I told him, ‘Good luck to you, buddy. You’re a better man than I am.’ I try to do my best to take care of him when I can.”
Yanda has been named to his second straight Pro Bowl as it appears the right guard is finally receiving his due as one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. In addition to forming running lanes with tackle Kelechi Osemele on the right side of the offensive line, Yanda has been an exceptional pass blocker and hasn’t allowed a sack in 14 games played this season.
Reed rounds out the group of starters for the Ravens despite the 34-year-old safety not having a strong season by his Hall of Fame standards. It’s the ninth Pro Bowl selection of his 11-year career and the seventh straight he’s received.
In 15 games, Reed has collected 58 tackles and four interceptions returned for 78 yards with one going for a touchdown. He’s also accumulated 15 pass breakups as well as three fumble recoveries in the final year of a six-year contract.
Earning his fourth straight trip to the Pro Bowl, Ngata was named a reserve despite battling knee and shoulder injuries for a large portion of the season. The seventh-year defensive tackle has produced 51 tackles and five sacks in 14 games this season.
Finishing the Ravens’ list of Pro Bowl selections was Rice, who was named to his third Pro Bowl and second straight. Entering Week 17, Rice ranks sixth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with an average of 107.7 and became the first player in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards in a fourth consecutive season. He has 10 total touchdowns, nine of them rushing and one coming as a receiver, and 1,138 rushing yards this season.
“To have that respect around the league is something that you never take for granted because people respect the kind of work you put in on and off the field,” Rice said. “Because it comes from everybody. People can talk about what they want about the fans. The fans vote, players vote, and coaches vote, so you’re getting the three-way respect when you hear your name called. That’s special.”
Prior to the selections being announced on Wednesday evening, coach John Harbaugh expressed pride in so many players being selected for multiple Pro Bowls as five of the Ravens’ six selections were named to the All-Star roster for at least the second time in their respective careers.
“That’s something that you feel so good [about] for those guys,” Harbaugh said. “A number of guys have made it a number of years in a row. You look at a guy like Ed Reed who’s made it all these years in a row. It almost becomes expected, but then what an accomplishment that really is.”
Safety Bernard Pollard was named a first alternate to the AFC roster. He would receive an invitation to participate if a player in front of him wouldn’t play in the Pro Bowl due to an injury or Super Bowl participation.
The game will be held on Jan. 27, 2013 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.