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Pro Bowl line starts behind Russell Okung, Max Unger
The rest of the NFC has caught up to something that Tom Cable has been aware of all season: Russell Okung and Max Unger are playing at a Pro Bowl level.
The Seahawks’ left tackle and center were named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad on Wednesday, along with kick returner Leon Washington; and running back Marshawn Lynch and free safety Earl Thomas, who are reserves.
Thomas was the only Seahawks voted to the NFC squad last season, but was joined in the NFL all-star game by Lynch, fullback Michael Robinson, strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner, who were added as alternates for injured players or those unable to play for other reasons.
So the Seahawks’ five-player contingent that was named to the team this season is the highest since six were honored in 2007.
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Five Seahawks have been voted to the Pro Bowl, and eight others have been named alternates on the NFC squad:
The Seahawks also have eight alternates this season: defensive end Chis Clemons, Robinson and cornerback Richard Sherman (first); Chancellor, special-teamer Heath Farwell and punter Jon Ryan (second); quarterback Russell Wilson (third); and nose tackle Brandon Mebane (fourth).
Coach Pete Carroll announced the selections after practice, and each was greeted with a rousing round of cheers. None were louder than those for Okung and Unger.
“I’m really proud of them,” said Cable, the team’s offensive line coach and assistant head coach. “The work they’ve put in has paid off for them. So it’s a pretty neat deal.”
But not surprisingly. Not at all, especially for Cable, who saw something special in Unger even before he joined the Seahawks last season and also has championed the steady and consistent play of Okung at every opportunity this season.
“I think they have played well all year long,” Cable said. “The group as a whole has. But to have those two guys be consistent all the way through it at that high a level, that’s pretty special.”
Unger was a second-round draft choice in 2009, but played guard as a rookie and then missed all but the opener in 2010 because of an injury. He moved to center last season when Cable arrived, and this season has anchored a line that has paved the way for the Seahawks to average 161.7 rushing yards and Lynch to run for a career-best 1,490 yards.
“He’s right all the time,” Cable said. “I think to do this to the consistency thing comes into play here. You’ve got to do it running the ball and protecting your quarterback down after down, and (he’s) done that.”
Okung was a first-round draft choice in 2010, but missed 10 games his first two seasons because of injuries. This season, he has more than held his own against some the best pass-rushers in the league and also been the driving force behind the Seahawks running so well to the left side.
Asked if his Unger assessment carried over the Okung, Cable said, “Absolutely. Both those guys have been really good for this football team.”
Unger is the second center in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl, joining Robbie Tobeck (2005). Okung follows in the left-tackle footsteps of Walter Jones, who was voted to a club-record nine Pro Bowls (1999, 2001-08).
Thomas was the Pro Bowl starter last season, but this year that spot went to the San Francisco 49ers’ Dashon Goldson, who played at the University of Washington. Last year, Goldson was the backup to Thomas. This season, Thomas has returned one of his three interceptions for a touchdown and also is fifth on the team with 58 tackles.
Lynch and the 49ers’ Frank Gore are the backups to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who leads the league with 1,898 yards. In addition to his career-high rushing total, Lynch has run for at least 100 yards in nine games and is averaging a career-best 5.0 yards per carry.
Washington is second in the league in kickoff return average (30.1) and also averaging 8.6 yards on punt returns. He also returned his eighth kickoff for a touchdown this season, tying the NFL career record.