Tampa Bay Buccaneers put rookie return man Clifton Smith, veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks on Pro Bowl roster

Clifton Smith, an undrafted rookie, leads the NFL in punt return average and is sixth in kick return average.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Clifton Smith, an undrafted rookie, leads the NFL in punt return average and is sixth in kick return average.

TAMPA — The only surprising thing about Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks' franchise-record 11th Pro Bowl selection is that he is still going to the all-star showcase after all these years.

Meanwhile, undrafted rookie return man Clifton Smith's selection to the NFC roster Tuesday was equally shocking, but only because it has come so soon.

Yes, Tampa Bay's two representatives in the Pro Bowl could not have arrived under more different circumstances.

Brooks' name has such cache, he gets a fair number of votes out of sheer respect for his years of sustained excellence. Smith, meanwhile, might be the most anonymous player in the game and earned his way to Honolulu only after a series of heart-stopping highlights that rescued his team from defeat.

"I'm extremely humbled by the selection and it's a great accomplishment, but we have a lot of our season remaining and that hopefully includes the playoffs," Smith, 23, said. "I wish I could share the Pro Bowl experience with all of my teammates because all of the credit goes to them. I am really at a loss for words."

Smith, who was on the practice squad as recently as October, burst onto the scene as the team's kick and punt returner and will perform both roles on Feb. 8. He made the Pro Bowl roster by effectively beating out New Orleans' Reggie Bush (three touchdowns), who is arguably the only NFC return man to rival Smith's accomplishments this season.

Smith, who joins Warrick Dunn as the only Tampa Bay rookies selected to the Pro Bowl, leads the NFL in punt-return average (15 yards) among teams' primary returners. He also ranks sixth in kickoff returns (27.3 yards) and is the only player this season to score on a punt and kickoff return. He returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown against Kansas City on Nov. 2 in his second NFL game and added a 70-yard score on a punt return in Detroit two weeks later. Both plays helped the Bucs rally for victories.

Brooks, 35, is headed back to the Pro Bowl after having a streak of 10 appearances snapped last season. His 11th selection is second most among linebackers in NFL history. Brooks made the squad as a reserve, with outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys) and Lance Briggs (Bears) in the starting lineup.

"I thank God because I feel like I really worked hard this offseason to take my game back to the upper level in which I thought I could play," he said. "I also thank my defensive teammates for keeping our defense at the top of the league all season."

Among the Bucs likely disappointed by their exclusion are K Matt Bryant, C Jeff Faine and MLB Barrett Ruud. Giants K John Carney, centers Andre Gurode (Cowboys) and Shaun O'Hara (Giants) and ILBs Patrick Willis (49ers) and Jon Beason (Panthers) were elected to the roster at those positions.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers put rookie return man Clifton Smith, veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks on Pro Bowl roster 12/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 19, 2008 11:04am]

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