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A reason to smile

Posted Dec 27, 2011

When the NFC Pro Bowl squad was announced Tuesday, the Seahawks had a starter in Earl Thomas and three first alternates, which left coach Pete Carroll smiling.

The smile on Pete Carroll’s face said it all.

The Seahawks will be represented in the 2012 Pro Bowl, and it could go beyond Earl Thomas, who was the starting free safety for the NFC when the squads were announced Tuesday afternoon.

The team also has five alternates, including next-up status for strong safety Kam Chancellor, cornerback Brandon Browner and fullback Michael Robinson, each the first alternate at his position. In addition, running back Marshawn Lynch is a second alternate and punter Jon Ryan a third alternate.

The alternates will be elevated to the roster if an injured player cannot participate, or a player opts out because his team advances to the NFC Championship Game or the Super Bowl. The Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 29 in Honolulu, while the Super Bowl takes place Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.

“To know that Earl is a starter and that Brandon and Kam are both first alternates, that’s pretty darn good,” said Carroll, who took time from meetings to install the game plan for Sunday’s season finale against the Cardinals in Arizona so he could call each player and deliver the good news.

Too often, the safeties are selected based on their interception totals. But Thomas was tabbed even though he has just two, because the players and coaches in the conference recognized that he has improved his overall game when they cast their ballots last week.

“He’s just grown as a player,” Carroll said. “He’s added the full package by being a great cover guy and also fitting in the run, as well as getting the football. Obviously, guys around the league have recognized it.

“That’s what’s really cool about this.”

While Thomas is a starting safety along with Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson, the third safety is the San Francisco 49ers Dashon Goldson – who played at the University of Washington. So if either Goldson or Wilson can’t play, Chancellor will be added to the NFC roster.

It’s the same situation for Browner, the former CFL cornerback who is in his first season as a starter in the NFL. The starting corners are Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers and Carlos Rogers of the 49ers. The Chicago Bears’ Charles Tillman is No. 3. If any of them can’t play, Browner will go to the Pro Bowl.

“First-time chance guys, first-time starters for Kam and Brandon,” Carroll said of Chancellor and Browner getting their recognition so soon in their NFL careers.

“As first-time starters, the fans wouldn’t really know them. But their peers have recognized the impact that they’ve had.”

At fullback, Robinson is the next in line behind the Packers’ John Kuhn because only one fullback is named to the squad.

“This is great for Michael Robinson to be the first alternate there,” Carroll said. “He earned it.”

The puzzling situation was Lynch finished fifth among the running backs after leading the league in rushing yards (855) and touchdowns (nine) over the past eight games. The Philadelphia Eagles’ LeSean McCoy is the starter, with the Bears’ Matt Forte and 49ers’ Frank Gore as the second and third backs on the squad. But Forte was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and Gore could be otherwise occupied when it’s time to fly to Hawaii.

“We think Marshawn should be the first guy picked,” Carroll said. “That just shows you the caliber of players he was up against.”

And the Seahawks played two of the three backs who made the squad – holding McCoy to 84 yards, and Gore to 59 and 83 yards in two meetings. Forte was out when the Seahawks beat the Bears in Chicago 10 days ago.

Regardless of how many Seahawks end up on the NFC squad, the fact that they will have at least one for the first time since 2008 is a sign that things are looking up – especially because the 22-year-old Thomas and the five alternates are so young. Browner, 27, and Chancellor, 23, are in their first seasons as starters; while Lynch is 25, Robinson 28 and Ryan 30.

“We’re really happy for them and it shows that we are a team for the future,” Carroll said. “There are a lot of guys coming up that are getting their recognition for the first time that will be here for a long time. It’s exciting.”

For a look at the complete NFC and AFC rosters on NFL.com, click here.

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