The 2012 Pro Bowl saw a number of rookies make the trip out to Hawaii, and while tomorrow's stars basked in the Hawaiian sunshine, the NFL too can enjoy a sunny outlook with such an impressive crop of young players in the ranks.
The Cincinnati Bengals had four representatives in AFC colors on Sunday, with Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins and Jermaine Gresham making their first Pro Bowl appearances. While some might linger on the "replacement" moniker held by all but Green, the presence of these young players in Hawaii means nothing but good things for the Bengals of 2012 and beyond.
So how did they fare on Sunday?
Dalton completed seven of his nine pass attempts for 99 yards and two TDs, coming courtesy of Brandon Marshall and some defensive errors. It's also interesting to point out that Dalton's fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Cam Newton also threw for two TDs, but threw for three interceptions while doing so.
Jermaine Gresham caught only one pass in Sunday's action, and fittingly it was thrown by Dalton. It did however go for 14 yards and a first down in the buildup of a scoring drive.
A.J. Green capped off a promising rookie season with a Pro Bowl touchdown, making him the first rookie Bengals receiver to do so. Funnily enough, the pass was thrown by AFC North rival Ben Roethlisberger, and is likely to be the only occasion the Steelers QB celebrates an A.J. Green TD.
Green finished with two receptions worth 42 yards and had an unlucky fumble to go along with it.
Geno Atkins put in a nice performance considering the tender style of defense associated with the Pro Bowl. With two tackles, a bat-down of an Aaron Rodgers pass and two almost-sacks on Cam Newton, Atkins showed that he has the talent to hang with the big stars and left many feeling as though he will be back soon.
Pro Bowl MVP Brandon Marshall weighed in following the game, and had particularly kind words for the tandem known as Dalton-to-Green, referring to Dalton as “a quarterback you can hang your hat on."
“He’s young, but he’s intelligent,” Marshall said via Bengals.com. “He’s feisty and very crafty.”
Similarly impressed with A.J. Green, Marshall said:
“He’s in a league of his own, he’s totally different. He’s really smooth. Sometimes it takes people a couple of years to get it. But it looks like he has it. I’m looking forward to following his career...I love his focus. I love his demeanor in a game,” he said. “He doesn’t get rattled. It doesn’t matter who he’s playing. He just makes plays.”
The Bengals have been underrepresented in Pro Bowls in the past few years, a reflection of the team's struggles. However, it's hard not to get the sense that a new era has arrived.
And with so many young talented players in stripes, you would struggle to find someone who does not buy into the future of this team.
The Pro Bowl may be a glorified scrimmage, but the positive ripple-effects it has produced back in the Midwest will continue to be felt when training camp rolls around. These four players have showed what can be accomplished in a year, and there are a fair number of guys on the roster that will be looking to take that same step come the 2012 season.