Tim Twentyman / The Detroit News
Allen Park— The Lions are back in the Pro Bowl.
Rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and receiver Calvin Johnson were named as starters to the NFC roster, the NFL announced Tuesday.
The game will be played Jan. 30 in Honolulu.
Selections are based on a voting system that includes fans, coaches and players, with each getting a third of the vote.
The Lions took a three-year hiatus from the Pro Bowl after struggling to a 9-39 record over those seasons.
But the Lions became relevant again this season and with that comes recognition from fans, coaches and peers. It’s the first time since 2005 (CB Dre Bly, KR Eddie Drummond, DT Shaun Rogers) that the Lions will send more than one player to the game.
“The Pro Bowl is a great honor for a player because the vote comes from the coaches and players as well as the fans,” coach Jim Schwartz said.
“Both Calvin and Ndamukong had outstanding seasons and today’s announcement confirms the NFC coaches and players felt the same way.
“While this is an individual honor, Calvin and N-D’s success would not be possible without the help of their teammates and coaches.”
Suh was a no-brainer as a starter after blowing away the competition in the fan voting. He more than doubled the number of votes from his nearest competitor, Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
Obviously, the players and coaches agreed with the fans.
Suh already has become one of the league’s premier defensive players and becomes the first Lions starter in the Pro Bowl since defensive tackle Shaun Rogers in 2006.
Suh is the first Lions rookie since Barry Sanders in 1990 to be named to the team and the first defensive rookie since Al “Bubba” Baker in 1979.
“It’s a tremendous honor, obviously, being a rookie and getting my feet wet in the NFL,” he said.
“I can’t expect anything more and it’s truly a blessing and something that I’m definitely elated about. It’s only going to make me want to work harder to get back there again.
“I definitely owe it to my coach (Kris Kocurek) and especially the guys I’ve been playing next to in Cliff (Avril), Corey (Williams), Kyle (Vanden Bosch), Turk (McBride), L.J. (Lawrence Jackson), Sammie (Hill), Flu (Andre Fluellen) and every guy on that defensive line because if it weren’t for them, who knows what would have happened this season. I definitely got to thank them and Coach Schwartz and the rest of the defense because it’s a total team effort — defensive effort — and I can’t say much more than that.”
Suh’s nine sacks are tops among all NFL defensive tackles. He leads rookies, regardless of position, in sacks. His 60 tackles are the third-highest among defensive linemen in the NFL and the most in the NFC.
“From day one, Ndamukong has come in here with a great attitude and a great work ethic,” said defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. “He’s tried to get better from week to week, and if you watched him as the season progressed, he has gotten better from start to finish.
“He played a totally different scheme in college than what we’re doing now. The transition that he has made into our scheme, I don’t know that a whole lot of defensive tackles in particular could make that transition as fast as he has.”
Johnson’s selection might be a bit overdue.
He was left off the 2008 Pro Bowl team despite finishing the season with 78 receptions, 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The team’s historic run to 0-16 that season was certainly a contributing factor in the snub.
“This is a tremendous honor and I appreciate the recognition from by peers and the fans,” Johnson said. “I especially owe thanks to Coach (Shawn) Jefferson and all the guys in our (receivers) room along with the rest of my teammates and coaches.”Johnson’s numbers this season are similar to what he put up in 2008. He leads the Lions with 77 catches for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Johnson becomes the first Lions offensive player to be elected to the original Pro Bowl squad (non-alternate) since tight end David Sloan in 2000 and first receiver since Herman Moore in 1998. Receiver Roy Williams was an alternate in 2007.
Johnson ranks first in the NFC among non-kickers in scoring (74 points) and he’s tied for first in touchdown receptions and third in receiving yards.
The selections mark the first time the Lions will be represented on both sides of the ball in the Pro Bowl since 2000 (LB Stephen Boyd, DT Luther Elliss, DE Robert Porcher and TE David Sloan).