ORLANDO, Fla. — The NFL Pro Bowl is a relaxing time for players following months of work during the regular season and postseason. That theme was on display when players from the AFC and NFC took the field Wednesday morning in shorts, t-shirts, snapbacks and sneakers to begin preparation for a week of eventful activities in Orlando.
So when Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin ran out with cleats on, it was a bit out of the ordinary, and cornerback Richard Sherman jokingly got on him about it.
"He got cleats on and everything," Sherman said with a laugh. "We're out here in tennis shoes and he's stopping on a dime."
It was Baldwin's first day of practice as a Pro Bowler with Sherman and other players under the sun in his home state of Florida. The 28-year-old Baldwin became the final Seahawks player on the trip when he was named as an injury replacement earlier this week, giving the team a franchise-record seven Pro Bowl players for the third consecutive season.
Baldwin was more than enthusiastic and excited about the opportunity on one of the league's best stages when asked about it after practice.
"To be honest with you, it's exhilarating because I'm going up against some of the best guys in the league," Baldwin said. "It's very rare that you get to see this much talent in one area. As cliché as it might sound, I'm excited to compete against some of the best guys out here."
Baldwin is coming off his best season as a pro since he signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He recorded his second-straight 1,000-yard season at the tune of 94 receptions, which tied a franchise-record, for 1,128 yards and seven touchdowns.
Of the seven Seahawks Pro Bowl players, Baldwin, along with linebacker K.J. Wright and defensive end Cliff Avril — another Florida native — are first timers after career-best seasons in 2017.
Next to the NFL's leader in tackles, Bobby Wagner, Wright recorded a career-high 126 combined, plus four sacks.
"K.J. has always been good, too," added defensive end Michael Bennett. "It's just one of those things where people notice him now."
Wagner praised Wright’s production earlier this month, saying: "He had career bests in pretty much everything—tackles, sacks, TFLs—he has just been all over the place. He deserves a lot more respect, a lot more attention than he has been getting. He's definitely one of the best linebackers in this league. He just makes plays. Every time you watch film, you see number 50 shooting his spider webs. He has been amazing."
The Pro Bowl nod was long overdue for Avril, who just wrapped up his 10th year. Avril was sixth in the league with a career-high 11.5 sacks and forced five fumbles. Since joining the Seahawks in 2013 alongside Bennett, his fellow Pro Bowl teammate, Avril has been a wrecking ball for Seattle's defensive line off the edge. He's averaged roughly eight sacks per year with the team and has been a staple in the Seahawks' defensive prowess.
"It's so much talent out here," Avril said of the event. "We're picking each other's brains, we're talking to each other. I'm just having fun, embracing the moment, putting a face to the name — you get to see these guys, but you don't really know them. Being able to interact with them is pretty cool."
Said Bennett: "He's one of the best players in the NFL and I don't think that anybody can deny that. Now the world gets to see him and his skillset."
Over the course of the season, teammates of Baldwin, Wright and Avril voiced their support on social media and through the press to help them land a trip to Orlando. All three of them have been incredible contributors to Seattle's success the past few seasons, but have remained underrated in the national spotlight. That should begin to change.
"I think K.J. should be voted to the Pro Bowl, but a lot of times, he'll miss out on it because he doesn't have a ton of sacks because he doesn't blitz like that," Sherman said during a regular season press conference. "In terms of what he's done in coverage, what he's done assignment wise, it's almost been perfection, and Bobby as well.
"Guys like Cliff Avril deserve recognition like that, Doug Baldwin deserves the recognition and they need to be recognized for all their hard work, dedication and excellent play."
Making up the rest of the 2017 crew are Sherman (fourth consecutive), Bennett (second consecutive), Wagner (third consecutive) and tight end Jimmy Graham (fourth trip of his career). In the Pete Carroll and John Schneider area, the Seahawks have acquired 16 Pro Bowlers (11 remain on the current roster), eight of them being draft picks, five coming from free agency and three via trades. On defense alone, Seattle has seven players who have made a Pro Bowl, which includes at least two at each level of the defense (two defensive linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs).
"It shows the caliber of guys that we've got on our team," Avril added. "Obviously, most of us would rather play in the Super Bowl, but the next best thing is playing in the Pro Bowl. It's just an honor to have quite a few of my teammates here that you see day in and day out."
Added Baldwin: "It's truly a blessing to be out here with so many teammates because it obviously shows the recognition that the fans and the league has for the players on our team, but also to just be able to come out here and experience something like this that is very rare to do.
"It's special for us individually, but what's more special is that we're all here together. Us as teammates, we grind so much during the offseason and during the (regular) season — we see each other all the time — but to be able to come out here and do something special like this, that's a gift."
Photos of Seahawks players practicing with the NFC team in Orlando at the 2017 Pro Bowl.