December 28, 2008 in Sports

These guys stand out

Ryan, Peterson highlight ‘All-Foxhole Team’ of born leaders
By Dan Pompei Chicago Tribune
 
Associated Press photo

Associated Press Atlanta rookie QB Matt Ryan has earned the nickname “Ice.”
(Full-size photo)

It is one thing to be invited to the Pro Bowl. It is another to be invited into a foxhole.

These are the players who I would want next to me when the bullets start flying – not so much for their abilities or accomplishments as much for how they play the game.

Here is my 2008 All-Foxhole Team.

You have to love a quarterback whose nickname is “Ice,” especially when he is a rookie. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is as cool as they come, and one of the most impressive rookie quarterbacks anyone has seen.

Ryan isn’t the most physically gifted quarterback to take a snap, but he may be the most gifted with intangibles. When they call quarterbacks “field generals,” guys like Ryan are the example.

My favorite quote of the year was about Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

“He’ll tell us not to bend down when we’re tired. He’ll say, ‘There’s no air down there. Stand up. Lean on me,’ ” Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice said.

In addition to being the best runner I’ve seen since Jim Brown, Peterson is usually the one player out of the 22 on the field who wants it the most.

Who wouldn’t want a Marine in their foxhole? Tennessee Titans fullback Ahmard Hall is a former field radio operator who served in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marines.

Hall had a breakout season, paving the way for Chris Johnson and LenDale White and earning praise for his team-first attitude and full-throttle motor.

Arizona’s Anquan Boldin and New England’s Wes Welker get the receivers nod over Greg Jennings, Derrick Mason, Lance Moore and Steve Smith.

Boldin runs a 4.71 40-yard dash, but he may be the toughest wide receiver in the game, crashing through tacklers. His sinuses were fractured by a horrific hit against the New York Jets and it was feared he could miss a good chunk of the season, but Boldin returned two games later.

Speaking of taking big hits, Welker might have been on the receiving end of the biggest of the year from Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark. Welker bounced right back, like he always does.

The 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound Welker doesn’t mind running routes across the middle of the field, exposing himself to danger.

Consistency and durability are hallmarks of New York Giants left tackle Dave Diehl, and welcome qualities in the foxhole. He has played in every one of his 101 pro games. It took five years before he missed his first practice last August.

I know defensive end Jared Allen has a history of off-the-field problems, but he has stayed clean since he has been in Minnesota. He is that rare player who rushes the passer with such a furor that he can inspire and lift an entire defense. No defensive lineman plays harder.

A lot of fans are cool to Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis because of his problems with the law, but there is no denying he is an incredible force with a will that changes games. At 33, Lewis remains a top-tier player because of his passion and effort.

Off the field, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is a thoughtful, soft-spoken gentleman who did not want to miss the birth of his child and considered missing a game to be with his wife. As it turned out, he didn’t need to miss the game.

On the field, he is a whirling dervish as the best, most complete safety in football. He puts his stamp on every game he plays.

If you bumped into Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan on the street, you would have a hard time believing he is a football player. He is an average-size man who does not stand out in a crowd – unless that crowd is on a football field.

Finnegan, who played at Samford and was a seventh-round draft pick, is pound for pound one of the toughest players in the NFL.

Cover him – or at least try: The Chicago Bears will be paying special attention today to Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, who is the NFL’s leading receiver.

Johnson doesn’t get a lot of attention because he hasn’t played on a high-profile team, but he clearly is the most complete wide receiver in the game.


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