RENTON – The strength of the Seattle Seahawks this season has been the team’s running game, and a couple of key pieces of that group were rewarded on Wednesday with a trip to Hawaii.
Seattle had five players selected to this season’s NFC Pro Bowl roster, including two offensive linemen for the first time since 2005.
Offensive tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger were selected as starters, earning the first Pro Bowl selections of their young careers.
Running back Marshawn Lynch and safety Earl Thomas were selected as reserves to the NFC roster. Lynch earned his third trip to Hawaii, and Thomas his second.
And Leon Washington was selected as the return specialist for the NFC, the second time he has been selected to the annual all-star game.
Players are picked by a combined vote of fans, coaches and fellow players.
Eight more Seahawks were selected as alternates — defensive end Chris Clemons (first), fullback Michael Robinson (first), cornerback Richard Sherman (first), safety Kam Chancellor (second), special teamer Heath Farwell (second), punter Jon Ryan (second), quarterback Russell Wilson (third) and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (fourth).
Those players will be named to the team if a selected member of the NFC squad is unable to participate.
The Seahawks had five players compete in the game last January in Lynch, Thomas, Chancellor, Robinson and cornerback Brandon Browner.
“When we win, we all make money. We all get accolades. We all share in this thing,” Robinson said. “And guys are buying in. Guys understand that it’s not about the individual; it’s about the team.”
Sherman was the most blatant omission for Seattle. The Stanford product is tied for second in the league with seven interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. Sherman also returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a score last Sunday against San Francisco, and is tied for the league lead for pass deflections with 23.
Sherman was third after fan voting, so voting by coaches and players decided his fate.
Sherman is awaiting a decision on his appeal of a four-game suspension imposed by the league for allegedly testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. He remains eligible for the game, pending a decision on his appeal.
“I think the Pro Bowl is neither here or there with how they do the voting,” Sherman said before the team was announced. “I like the All-Pro voting a lot better.”
A decision on Sherman’s status for Sunday’s contest against St. Louis could be announced as early as today.
“Either the truth is going to come out or not,” he said. “That’s all it comes down to.”
Okung and Unger helped open holes for Lynch, who has rushed for a career-high 1,490 yards this season with one game remaining.
Drafted No. 6 overall in 2010 as the heir apparent to nine-time Pro Bowl player Walter Jones, Okung initially had trouble playing in the Florida State product’s immense shadow.
But after dealing with nagging injuries in his first two seasons, Okung managed to stay healthy in 2012, and it showed.
Battling some of the top pass rushers in the league in Chicago’s Julius Peppers, Minnesota’s Jared Allen and San Francisco’s Alden Smith, Okung allowed just one sack all season.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Okung said of the honor. “It’s a blessing I don’t really feel deserving of, but two guys from our offensive line (selected to the Pro Bowl) and a lot of guys from our team – it doesn’t even feel real.”
The Seahawks signed Unger to a five-year, $25.5 million deal to serve as the leader of the offensive line, and the University of Oregon product proved he was up to the task.
It will be a homecoming for Unger, a native of Hawaii.
“I’m very proud of them,” Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable said. “I think that the work they’ve put in has paid off for them. It’s a pretty neat deal.”
Thomas does not have as many tackles as last season, standing fourth on the team with 63. But he has three interceptions, including a 57-yard return for a score against Buffalo, and he has helped the Seahawks hold opponents to 14 touchdowns this season, tied for second-lowest in the league.
Washington tied Cleveland’s Josh Cribs for most all-time kickoff returns for touchdowns with eight when he returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against Miami in November. He ranks first in the NFC this season with a 30.1-yard kickoff return average.
The Seahawks had seven players miss practice Wednesday because off injuries: Receiver Sidney Rice (knee), tight end Anthony McCoy (back), offensive tackle Breno Giacomini (elbow), Lynch (back), linebacker Leroy Hill (hamstring), cornerback Walter Thurmond (hamstring) and defensive end Red Bryant (foot). Thomas (ankle) was a full participant. Marcus Trufant returned to practice as a full participant after missing four games with a hamstring injury. Seattle released defensive end Monte Taylor from the practice squad and replaced him with tight end Cooper Helfet. The Seahawks worked out free agent defensive end Ray Edwards on Monday, but he’s not expected to sign with the team.Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks/ @eric_d_williams