With the New York Jets surging to a 5-1 start and becoming one of the most popular teams in the NFL, it's only natural that many of their players are in the running to be selected for the 2011 Pro Bowl.
Last season, five Jets represented the AFC — Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Shaun Ellis and Alan Faneca. This year, past Pro Bowlers and other members of the Green & White searching for their first appearances will be looking for the team's fans to help vote them into the Jan. 30, 2011, NFL all-star game, which returns to Honolulu's Aloha Stadium after a one-year hiatus.
And the fans, who count for one-third of the voting for Pro Bowl berths, began casting their ballots Monday at www.newyorkjets.com/probowl. The online voting concludes at midnight on Dec. 20, so make sure to get your votes in and support the Jets players on the ballot.
Among the standouts this season are linebacker David Harris, who has been a stalwart in the middle all year and leads the team with 49 tackles.
Two veterans who are also Jets newcomers are also in the hunt for Pro Bowl berths — running back LaDainian Tomlinson and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
Tomlinson has 490 yards and five touchdowns on 92 carries and has added 107 yards on 19 receptions. The five-time Pro Bowler and 2006 NFL MVP is hungry for his sixth trip to Hawaii, but as a consummate professional he's given credit to his teammates and the big blockers in front of him.
"Just to see it come together, it's a joy and such excitement from my standpoint," LT said. "It's really such an honor to work with these guys. You have guys who really enjoy being around each other, they enjoy the game playing football and they love to compete."
Part of Tomlinson's success in the running game that he alluded to is his offensive line and a big part of that line is guard Brandon Moore. The undrafted free agent defensive lineman out of Illinois in 2002 is in search of his first Pro Bowl.
"We're running to both sides," said Moore, the Jets' rock-steady right guard. "LT's touchdown run [against Denver] was to the left. And definitely we play to our strengths to the right side and we do that when teams are geared to try to stop us from running the ball."
Cromartie has two interceptions and 11 pass defenses, both totals leading the Jets, while working against the likes of Randy Moss, both as a Patriot and a Viking, the Bills' Lee Evans and the Broncos' Brandon Lloyd.
Other targets for Green & White voters are TE Dustin Keller and WR Braylon Edwards, who are at the top of the Jets' receiving leaders. And two of special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff's bunch are among the NFL leaders in their specialties. Kicker Nick Folk has 55 points, which led the league in scoring through Week 6, making 13 of his 15 field goal attempts. And punter Steve Weatherford is averaging a net of 40.1 yards per punt and has landed 13 of his 32 punts inside the 20-yard line.
"Those two guys did a great job in workouts for us," Westhoff said. "Now each one has progressed through the course of the offseason and season and they've both done very good jobs."
Not only have Folk and Weatherford been impressive, but kickoff returner Brad Smith is also competing for a Pro Bowl berth. The fifth year man out of Missouri is second among qualifying returners in the NFL with a kickoff-return average of 31.8 yards.
In fact, the special teams have done such an impressive job that they have been singled out by head coach Rex Ryan.
"I think what we're doing punting, kicking and our returns is about as good as there is," Ryan said this week. "That's probably the strength of our team right now, over the defense, over the offense. We're in pretty good shape there."
In 2010 the Pro Bowl was watched by 12.3 million viewers on ESPN, the most for a Pro Bowl since 2000 and more than any other all-star game of an American professional sport on cable TV. Last season was the first time the Pro Bowl was played the week before the Super Bowl, and it will be at that same spot on the NFL calendar again in January. Players whose teams are playing in the Super Bowl won't be making the trip to Hawaii.