Trio of Saints will start

Published 6:30 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Saints quarterback Drew Brees and two teammates were named Pro Bowl starters on Tuesday, less than a year after the former San Diego signal-caller suffered a serious shoulder injury.

Saints offensive lineman Jammal Brown and defensive lineman Will Smith also will start for the NFC squad when the game is played in Honolulu on Feb. 10, the NFL announced.

Brees is the NFL’s leading passer through 14 games, throwing for a team-record 4,240 yards. He also has 25 touchdown passes and a 98.2 passer rating.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The former Charger signed with New Orleans as a free agent in the offseason, after undergoing shoulder surgery.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Brees said. “It was one of my personal goals entering the season, and I wouldn’t be here without the efforts of the guys on my team and what we’ve been able to accomplish together.”

Saints coach Sean Payton said Brees’ selection is a “true tribute” to his success during his first season in New Orleans.

“He is a player that has worked so hard in his rehabilitation, and has been so diligent in his preparation in every aspect of his position,” Payton said.

Brown, a 2005 first-round pick, moved from right tackle to left tackle this season. Payton said it’s rare for a player to earn a Pro Bowl berth after switching positions.

“Jammal has put in a lot of hard work throughout his adjustment and has done a very good job for us,” the coach added. “I believe he is a big reason why we have had success on offense this year.”

Smith leads the Saints with a career-high 10.5 sacks. He also has made 54 tackles and forced three fumbles.

“Will has been a big force for us defensively this season,” Payton said. “He’s been a major part of our improvement on defense this season.”

The Chargers lead the NFL in Pro Bowlers, with nine players on the AFC squad. The Chicago Bears are next, with seven players on the NFC team.

• The San Diego Chargers and Chicago Bears lead the NFL in wins — and Pro Bowlers.

The Chargers placed nine players on the AFC squad Tuesday and the Bears had seven on the NFC team, which also includes a quarterback — Dallas’ Tony Romo — who wasn’t a starter when the season began.

San Diego’s contingent includes record-setting running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Philip Rivers, who sat on the bench for his first two seasons behind Drew Brees. The former Chargers quarterback signed as a free agent with New Orleans in the offseason and will start for the NFC.

Also among the players representing the Chargers is linebacker Shawne Merriman, last year’s defensive rookie of the year, who made it despite missing 4 games for flunking a steroid test. The game will be played in Honolulu on Feb. 10.

Three of the seven Bears, led by linebacker Brian Urlacher, are on defense and three are on special teams — kicker Robbie Gould, specialist Brendan Ayanbadejo and rookie return man Devin Hester, who has shattered records with six returns for touchdowns on three punts, two kickoffs and a missed field goal.

Center Olin Kreutz, a perennial at his position, is the only Bears Pro Bowler on offense.

The NFC team also includes the Barber twins — running back Tiki of the New York Giants and Ronde of Tampa Bay. The first twins to make it together, they now become the second set of brothers to make the Pro Bowl for three straight seasons — Shannon and Sterling Sharpe from 1993-95 are the others.

In a year of outstanding rookies, Hester is the only one to make it, although Tennessee quarterback Vince Young is an alternate.

Like Kreutz, Urlacher and the Barbers, many of the Pro Bowlers are perennials although Ray Lewis of the Ravens didn’t make it — beaten out at inside linebacker on the AFC roster by Al Wilson of Denver and Zach Thomas of Miami.

One non-perennial is Reggie Wayne of the Colts, one of the league’s best receivers for the past few years but always in the shadow of Marvin Harrison and never before a Pro Bowler.

“I really didn’t think he would make it, not that he didn’t deserve it,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “But it’s a tough perception to overcome — that your No. 2 receiver is better than 28 other receivers in the league.”

Harrison also made it, although he is a backup to the two Johnsons who will start at wide receiver — Chad of Cincinnati and Andre of Houston.

Buffalo linebacker Aaron Schobel and Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker are two of the nine first-time selections on the AFC squad, including Rivers and Wayne.

Arizona safety Adrian Wilson joined 12 others, including Romo, Hester, Gould, San Francisco running back Frank Gore and St. Louis running back Steven Jackson as first-timers on the NFC team.

The position with the most repeaters is traditionally the offensive line.

Guard Will Shields of Kansas City will go for the 12th time, tying a mark held by former Viking Randall McDaniel, also a guard. Another guard, Pittsburgh’s Alan Faneca, will represent the AFC for the sixth straight time.

The AFC quarterbacks in addition to Rivers are the Colts’ Peyton Manning, who’ll start, and the Bengals’ Carson Palmer.

The Rams’ Marc Bulger joins Brees and Romo as the NFC’s quarterbacks.