All-Pros: Brilliant newcomers and seasoned stars

By Barry Wilner

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 7 2012 3:05 a.m. MST

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2012, file photo, Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson runs upfield during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wis. Johnson and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen are the leading vote getters for The Associated Press 2011 NFL All-Pro Team announced Friday, Jan. 6, 2012, each falling one vote short of being unanimous choices.

Mike Roemer, File, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Brilliant newcomers and seasoned stars. A winning blend for any team, including The Associated Press 2011 NFL All-Pro Team.

From Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Lions receiver Calvin Johnson to Cardinals rookie kick returner Patrick Peterson, youth is well represented. So is veteran savvy with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, Packers cornerback Charles Woodson and 49ers placekicker David Akers.

Fifteen players made the team for the first time in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL.

"It means a lot to me," said the Eagles' LeSean McCoy, selected Friday at running back along with Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew — both first-timers. "You think about all of the great players and running backs in this league and for me to be mentioned with them is an honor. It also means a lot to my teammates, guys that have pushed me all season long, coaches who helped me work on the little things and had faith in me to reach this accomplishment. And, of course, those guys up front did a great job all year. Those guys are beasts, man, it's easy to get big runs when your line is opening up huge holes for you every time you touch the ball."

It's difficult dealing with those guys as they run free with the ball, but safety Eric Weddle of San Diego did so well enough to be recognized as an All-Pro.

"I think it's overall consistent play," Weddle said. "I made a lot of plays on the ball, whether it's picking off a pass or covering my guy and knocking down a pass. I've tried not to give up big plays. It's just being sound in all phases and being an overall good football player."

Good — make that great — is represented throughout the All-Pro squad.

Johnson and Allen were the leading vote-getters, each just one vote shy of being a unanimous pick.

"That's sweet," said Johnson, who hauled in 96 catches for a 17.5-yard average and scoring 16 touchdowns. "That's one of the best honors you can have other than being a Super Bowl champion. To be an All-Pro is a tremendous honor."

Allen had 22 sacks, one-half short of Michael Strahan's league mark, to make his fourth All-Pro Team.

"This game, as much as it is a team sport, it's still very individual based," Allen said. "The best I can help my team win is to be the best individual defensive end I can be. You've got to have a selfish attitude to an extent, with the way you prepare yourself to help your team win games. But at the same time, if you don't have a successful team season, it (stinks). It makes that grind we all go through together that much tougher."

Nothing grinding about the year Rodgers has had. He easily beat Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints at quarterback, 47½ votes to 2½. Rodgers led Green Bay to a league-best 15-1 record this season, after taking the Packers to the Super Bowl title last February.

"I am a competitor," Rodgers said. "I care desperately about winning and doing everything I can to contribute. But personally, speaking for my own self, you learn exactly what you need to do to be able to balance the pressure from the outside with the pressure from within, that you put on yourself to be successful. Last year's run is really going to help all of us and our preparation through the week."

Peterson was the only rookie who made the squad. He tied an NFL mark when he ran back four punts for touchdowns, including a 99-yarder in overtime to beat the Rams.

"It's special to be the only rookie on the list and a nice way to end my first NFL season," said Peterson, a cornerback.

Another cornerback, Darrelle Revis of the Jets, was behind Johnson and Allen with 48 selections. Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs got 47.

One oddity: Both first-team guards, Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, were from the Saints. That hasn't happened since 1953, with Detroit's Lou Creekmur and Dick Stanfel.

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