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First-time AFC Pro Bowlers relishing trip to Hawaii

  • By Simon Samano NFL.com
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KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- Texans running back Arian Foster walked into the first Pro Bowl players' meeting earlier this week with the likes of Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis, and that's when Foster was able to put being the AFC's starting running back into perspective.

"Man, this means a lot," Foster said. "It just goes to show that if you put your mind to something, you can do it. You can accomplish anything you want to."

That seems to be the theme at this Pro Bowl, with 35 first-timers selected to Sunday's NFL all-star game. Nowhere is that more evident than on the AFC, which has 23 of those players, specifically the squad's cast of unlikely playmakers.

Foster, Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, Broncos receiver Brandon Lloyd, Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis; did anybody believe these guys would make the Pro Bowl before the season began?

"There's not very much separation in talent from player to player," said Lloyd, who's making his first Pro Bowl after eight seasons. "Any player given the opportunity, with teammates who are supporting him, with an organization that supports them, could be awesome and have a breakout season."

Nobody had a bigger year than Foster, who, in just his second season, earned his first Pro Bowl selection by going from undrafted free agent on Houston's practice squad to the NFL rushing champion with 1,616 yards and 18 touchdowns. Foster's 2,220 yards from scrimmage is the most ever by an undrafted player.

"That's awesome," Foster said. "I like to walk where no one has been before. I had a goal, and when you have a goal you've got to go for it."

For Bowe, the goal was getting back on track -- not just on the field, either.

After a decent, yet unspectacular first two years in the league, the former first-round draft pick found himself in trouble in 2009, when his disappointing season reached a road block after being suspended four games for violating the league's steroids policy. Bowe then got himself into hot water last offseason with comments made to ESPN the Magazine that Chiefs veterans were "importing" women to hotel rooms on road trips.

All things considered, Bowe is grateful to have bounced back in a big way with a league-leading 15 touchdown catches. He and quarterback Matt Cassel went on a seven-game tear from Weeks 6 through 12, when Bowe scored 13 of his touchdowns, that helped Kansas City win the AFC West.

"It's a blessing," Bowe said of being at the Pro Bowl. "Everything that happened to me this past offseason, the season before that, all the trials I've been through, now I can enjoy this and appreciate it more. It's not about talent; it's about character. ...

"I definitely finally grew up, keeping my mouth closed, and just playing football."

In his fifth season, Lewis finally put together a complete season with the Jaguars, living up to his first-round status. Lewis had all of seven touchdown catches in his previous four years combined before coming up with 10 this season.

Credit the trust and rapport that Lewis built with quarterback David Garrard, who looked Lewis' way often as a safety valve on third downs.

"He had the commitment to stay and work out with me," said Lewis, who had 58 catches for 700 yards. "We were on the same page psychologically. We really were just on the same page. There really wasn't any thinking about it. You could tell in certain situations where Dave would get hit in the mouth, but he put the ball where he knew I would be. We just developed and really turned it on this year."

Same could be said for Lloyd and his quarterback, Kyle Orton. In past years with the 49ers, Redskins and Bears, Lloyd built a reputation for being able to snatch highlight-reel, acrobatic catches, but he could never put everything together for a full season.

That all changed this year, as Lloyd finished with a league-high 1,448 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Not surprisingly, Lloyd won't take all the credit for his outstanding season.

"Having someone like (former Broncos coach) Josh McDaniels believe in what I can do and having a quarterback like Kyle Orton really, honestly believe in what I can do and really feel that I'm the best and continue to give me opportunities, it's humbling," Lloyd said. "I was prepared. I hate saying 'working hard', because we all do. But I was prepared, and I knew what the heck I was doing. I was ready to come up with these big plays."

Because of those, he's here in Hawaii. And he can't stop smiling about it.

"It was humbling to get that call to come here," Lloyd said. "It was a dream-come-true. There have been so many dreams that have come true in my life. ... There's probably nobody as honored as I am to be out here and playing in this game."

Follow Simon Samano's reports from Hawaii in NFL.com's Pro Bowl blog.

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