Pro Bowl showcases NFL's healthy mix of youth and experience

OAHU, Hawaii -- A few hours after he put down his bags, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton ventured into the Ihilani resort's main restaurant and took his seat at a table for one, quickly crushing the nearby buffet without any company.

Meanwhile, Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers spent his day hanging out with an entourage of close friends, while New Orleans Saints signal-caller Drew Brees entertained his two sons with his wife, Brittany, in the resort's circular pool.

From the unacquainted rookie (Newton) to the young star (Rodgers) to the veteran family man (Brees), it didn't take much Tuesday to recognize how different life currently is for each of the NFC's three Pro Bowl quarterbacks in Hawaii this week.

It also didn't take much to recognize the reasons why, even outside of next week's climactic Super Bowl matchup, the sport has plenty of reasons to be as excited about its future as it is about its present. You want the NFL's equivalent of the State of the Union address? Just pan across the area of the pool where dozens of star players spent their day.

Running back Willis McGahee sipped on a Sprite on the first afternoon of his second Pro Bowl week. Four years removed from his first trip to paradise and nine years deep in his career, McGahee proved this season that he still has gas left in the tank.

Not far away, McGahee's Denver teammate, rookie linebacker Von Miller, was planning to head out for a fishing trip with three friends. Miller's fully soaking up the first of what could be many trips to the island after his 11.5-sack rookie debut.

Both youth and experience were everywhere, as witnessed when Brees' family spotted his rookie teammate, tight end Jimmy Graham, and headed over to catch up. The league's young talent, no doubt, is being infused with the old.

Consider this: While three quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings (Rodgers, Brees and Ben Roethlisberger) take the field Wednesday for the first practices of the week, so will a pair of rookies (Andy Dalton and Newton), making this the first Pro Bowl ever with two first-year quarterbacks.

Oh, you'll spot plenty of veterans, like Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Then again, it should be noted Peppers is serving as the replacement for another young star, Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who obviously won't be in Hawaii because he's preparing for the Super Bowl.

Now all of this might not make Sunday's game any better to watch, especially as most fans instead eagerly await the bigger game one week later, but the dynamic that exists is nonetheless a fantastic symbol of the wide-ranging star power that currently exists within the league.

2012 NFL Pro Bowl

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On the day when a good bulk of the players arrived for a rewarding week after individually impressive seasons, there wasn't any football being played. Instead, there were only a few casual meetings and plenty of laid-back chatter while everyone grew acquainted.

But the scene was still enough to provide a pleasant glimpse at the current landscape of the NFL: On offense and defense, on winning teams and losing teams, the stars of this league couldn't be much more diverse in age and experience.

And that, for both the present and the future, is a very good thing.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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