Call it a triumph for persistence, second effort or whatever. But the Bears are sending five players to the Pro Bowl, several of them overcoming doubters at more than one level of their sporting careers.
Four are on defense, two linemen and two cornerbacks: tackle Henry Melton, end Julius Peppers, plus the cornerback tandem of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman.
Offense is represented just by Brandon Marshall, No. 2 behind only Detroits Calvin Johnson in receptions (117 to 113) and receiving yardage (1,892 to 1,466).
Jennings struggled to find a college scholarship because coaches thought he was too short. He lost his starting job for game 15 of the 2011 season.
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Melton went to Texas as a running back, left as defensive end, and wasnt switched to defensive tackle until the 2011 offseason. Tillman, who has forced 10 fumbles in 2012, never went to a Pro Bowl before his ninth NFL season and now will have gone twice. He has intercepted three passes this season and returned all three for touchdowns.
Marshall was the 119th player taken in his draft (2006) and didnt start until his second NFL season.
For Peppers, whose 11.5 sacks are the most in his three Bears seasons, it is eighth time he has been chosen for the Pro Bowl, including all three of his seasons as a Bear. Marshalls selection is his fourthonce as a Bear, once as a Miami Dolphin and twice as a Denver Bronco.
The honor is the second for Tillman and first for Jennings and Melton.
Dont stop believing
It means a lot, said Jennings, who leads the NFL with eight interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. Im just glad to be here in this moment right now and just kind of share some of the stuff Ive been going through.
Hopefully a lot of kids that are going through my situation can take it all in and understand it doesnt matter what people may think about you or you think youre not good enough, if you really want it and you enjoy doing it, just go out there and have fun and try to be the best that you can be. Everything will take care of itself.
Moving Melton to defensive tackle was the idea of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Melton had made repeated impact plays as an end flip-flopping with Peppers in different spots and Marinelli, who coached perennial Pro Bowl tackle Warren Sapp when with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, saw the ideal three-technique in Melton with his pass-rush ability.
Melton had seven sacks last season, his first at tackle, and has six this season, tied for third among tackles.
When Marinelli said I had the stuff that he looks for in a defensive tackle, I listened to him and got to work, Melton said. If he said that he saw me as an elite defensive tackle, hes seen everybody -- Sapp and a lot of guys that have come before me. For him to say that, I believed in what he was saying.
Melton had a definite first reaction upon learning that Peppers was also selected. I said, Were going to be roommates? Melton said, then laughed. He said he didnt want to be my roommate.
If there was one surprise it was linebacker Lance Briggs not being chosen to what would have been his eighth straight Pro Bowl. Dick Butkus and Bill George were voted to eight straight and Mike Singletary to 10.
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