You can call my 18th All-Pro team a changing of the guard. Gone
are such stalwarts as Reggie White, Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice.
Not that they weren't impressive, but other people were better.
Here then are my 1996 selections and award winners.
QB--Brett Favre, PACKERS. He led Green Bay through both the good
times and the lean ones, when wideout after wideout went down
and he was manufacturing TDs out of thin air. On the move, Favre
RB--Terrell Davis, BRONCOS, and Ricky Watters, EAGLES. Davis's
yardage, tops in the NFL, speaks for itself. Watters, the
perennial problem child, carried Philadelphia through much of
the season, always screaming for the ball, never showing fatigue.
December 30, 1996
FB--Larry Centers, CARDINALS. Not a knock-'em-dead blocker, he
caught a million passes and kept countless drives alive.
WR--Cris Carter, VIKINGS, and Carl Pickens, BENGALS. First the
Vikes established the run. Then, when they needed to win the
game, they got the ball to Carter. Pickens's long-ball ability
gives him the nod over Rice, an intermediate-range weapon in
coordinator Marc Trestman's version of the 49ers' offense.
TE--Shannon Sharpe, BRONCOS. No one was close to Sharpe, who
made consistent clutch catches against double-team coverage. The
Patriots' Ben Coates faded down the stretch.
T--Gary Zimmerman, BRONCOS, and Tony Boselli, JAGUARS.
Zimmerman, an 11-year vet, was the glue that held a surprisingly
effective unit together. Boselli's in his second year, and he's
still learning, but he's got real punch at the point of attack.
G--Larry Allen, COWBOYS, and Jonathan Ogden, RAVENS. Allen's the
power guy on a Dallas line that had four people picked for the
Pro Bowl. Ogden's a rookie, but, wow, does he ever come off the
ball...and pass block...and block on the move....
C--Dermontti Dawson, STEELERS. He wins it on smarts over
Denver's underrated battler, Tom Nalen. Another sleeper is New
England's Dave Wohlabaugh.
E--Bruce Smith and Phil Hansen, BILLS. Bookends from Buffalo.
Smith, trimmed down and fighting for a new contract, had one of
his best seasons. Hansen has been overlooked in his six-year
career, but he's always around the ball, always fighting through
traffic to make the tackle.
T--Bryant Young, 49ERS, and D'Marco Farr, RAMS. Sleek and
explosive, almost technically perfect, Young is the best in the
game. Farr is a quick-strike type, but he can also handle the run.
OLB--Jessie Armstead, GIANTS, and Darrin Smith, COWBOYS. Both
are coverage guys, decent against the run but not stand-'em-up,
Rush LB--Chad Brown, STEELERS. The relentless Brown, playing
most of the time on a bad ankle, edges Carolina's Kevin Greene.
MLB--Sam Mills, PANTHERS. Pittsburgh's Levon Kirkland is
terrific, but the Carolina defense would be nowhere without
little Sam to run things.
CB--Deion Sanders, COWBOYS, and Ashley Ambrose, BENGALS. Sanders
simply shuts down one side of the field. Ambrose, a nickelback
when he was with the Colts, found a home in a system that allows
him more freedom.
SS--LeRoy Butler, PACKERs. A tough call over Denver's
interception machine, Tyrone Braxton, Dallas's Darren Woodson
and Houston's gutty little Blaine Bishop. Butler gets the nod on
FS--Eugene Robinson, PACKERS. In Seattle they were saying for
years that he was the best. This season Robinson masterminded
the finest secondary in football.
K--Cary Blanchard, COLTS. He had the highest accuracy in the
league and the second-most field goals. A lock.
P--Chris Gardocki, COLTS. Besides having the NFL's second-best
net average through Sunday, he nailed 23 punts inside the 20
versus only two touchbacks.
Player of the Year--Terrell Davis. He changed the whole offense
around and gave quarterback John Elway new life.
Coach of the Year--Dom Capers, Panthers. Is anyone else even
Rookie of the Year--Eddie George, RB, Oilers. He gained 1,521
yards to give Houston its most frightening weapon since Earl
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