Last year, a record number of Bengals went to the Pro Bowl. Andrew Whitworth, Tyler Eifert, Adam Jones, A.J. Green, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Cedric Peerman all played in the game, while Andy Dalton and Reggie Nelson were invited but declined the invitation due to injury.
Unfortunately, in the second half of the game, Eifert took the field, attempted to catch a touchdown pass in the end zone, and landed awkwardly on his ankle. What was initially assumed to be a minor injury turned into a huge hinderance to Eifert’s 2016 season, causing him to undergo offseason ankle surgery and miss the first six games of the season.
This season, far fewer Bengals will be going to the Pro Bowl, maybe because many fans decided they didn’t want to vote their favorite Bengals into the game, for fear of them making it and getting injured, as happened to Eifert last year.
Green and Atkins both made the original Pro Bowl roster this season, but Green won’t be traveling to Orlando due to his hamstring injury. This will be Green’s first time not playing in the Pro Bowl since joining the NFL. This week, it was announced that Whitworth and Dunlap would return to the game, as injury replacements for other NFL stars at their respective positions. Whitworth was a first alternative and Dunlap and second.
“I know all those guys. It’s humbling to be mentioned in the same stratosphere with them,” Whitworth told Bengals.com about returning to the Pro Bowl. “It’s an honor. But I think anyone who knows me knows I don’t see myself with guys like that.”
Whitworth certainly should see himself as a top player at his position in the league, and in Bengals history. He’s heading to the Pro Bowl as an 11 year veteran, set to hit free agency in March. The hope is that the Bengals re-sign the left tackle, who Pro Football Focus deemed the second best offensive tackle in the league this season.
“Any time you get a chance to go to a Pro Bowl, you have to take it,” Whitworth said. “Everybody deserves an opinion whether they play or don’t play. Some guys choose not to play and worry about injury. To me, it’s an honor to go. Not just for you, but the people that support you so much.”
While many players around the league would rather the Pro Bowl be in Hawaii, where it has been played in nearly every year since 1979, this year’s Pro Bowl will take place in Orlando, Florida, home to Disney World. That’s great news for Whitworth’s four young kids.
“Any opportunity to just say the words ‘Disney World,’ and ‘Mickey,’ they get pretty excited,” Whitworth said of his kids. “It’s their version of the Pro Bowl.”
Like Whitworth, Dunlap isn’t worrying about getting injured as he heads to his second Pro Bowl.
“You can’t think about it. If you do, you’re going to have problems,” Dunlap said. “I’m just going to go out there and do my job.”
As the Pro Bowl is returning to the NFC vs AFC format this year, Dunlap and Atkins will reunite on defense with Nelson, who made the Pro Bowl as a member of the Raiders this season.
“It’s going to be great playing again with Reggie,” Dunlap said. “And Geno and I will be out there again. That will be fun.”
Hopefully no Bengals players get injured in this year’s Pro Bowl, but Whitworth is going in anxious and ready to take the field.
“I’m excited to play in the Pro Bowl,” he said. “I like to play the game. That’s why I play. If something happens, I’ll deal with it.”
The Pro Bowl skills challenge, which includes dodgeball and other games will take place on January 26 at 7:00 p.m. ET, the Thursday prior to the Pro Bowl. The 2017 Pro Bowl is on Sunday, January 29 8 p.m. ET. Both the skills challenge and game will be shown on ESPN.