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4 Panthers picked for Pro Bowl

Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó The Carolina Panthers’ return to prominence helped end their shutout at the Pro Bowl.
A year after having no players on the NFC squad, four Panthers were selected Tuesday for the end-of-season game in Hawaii. Defensive end Julius Peppers and receiver Steve Smith were each voted in for the fourth time in their careers. Left tackle Jordan Gross and middle linebacker Jon Beason were picked for the first time.
Several other players were left out despite Carolina (11-3) being tied for the second-best record in the NFL. Running back DeAngelo Williams, who ranks fourth in the NFL in yards rushing, was named a first alternate. Kicker John Kasay and cornerback Chris Gamble also didn’t make the cut in voting split among fans, coaches and players.
While there was disappointment in that, the Panthers were happy to be represented in Honolulu on Feb. 8, after last year’s shutout following a 7-9 season.
“I am actually more excited for Jordan, Jon Beason and Julius than I am for myself,” Smith said. “Especially for the first-time guys, I’m happy to be going with those guys.
“Our goal is still the playoffs, and to get back in the playoffs would be so relieving. I feel great about the Pro Bowl, but the game before the Pro Bowl is the game you want to be playing in.”
Despite a two-game suspension to start the season, Smith is third in the NFL with 1,240 yards receiving. He’s gone over 100 yards receiving in four straight games.
Smith made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner in 2001 as a rookie, then as a receiver in ’05 and ’06. Peppers had his three-year Pro Bowl streak snapped last year after being held to a career-low 21/2 sacks. He has 121/2 this year, sixth most in the NFL.
Gross moved to left tackle this season and is part of an improved offensive line that has allowed for breakout seasons by Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart. Jake Delhomme has also been sacked only 19 times. Left guard Travelle Wharton was also considered a Pro Bowl candidate.
“It says a lot about our team this year that we had four guys selected,” Gross said. “I’m just proud to be one of them.”
Beason, the Panthers’ first-round pick last year, is again the team’s leading tackler. He also has three interceptions, and he oined Patrick Willis of San Francisco for the middle linebacker spots.
“Going into the process I was skeptical knowing that numbers were only a part of it,” Beason said. “I’m emotional and didn’t think I would be. It means a lot to know your peers recognize the way you play, and to have all the hard work pay off is a dream come true.”
The numbers worked against Williams, Kasay and Gamble.
Williams has rushed for 1,229 yards but was beaten out by Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Atlanta’s Michael Turner and Washington’s Clinton Portis ó the only three backs in the league with more yards.
Kasay has made 24 of 25 field goals, with his only miss being from 54 yards. Gamble was beaten out by Green Bay’s Charles Woodson, Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield and Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel.

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