Mike Zimmer: Pro Bowl bids mean Vikings aren't 'no-name guys'

MOBILE, Ala. -- When the Minnesota Vikings were trying to lock up a playoff spot in December, coach Mike Zimmer understandably had bigger things on his mind than worrying about how many players were selected to the Pro Bowl. When a reporter asked him on Dec. 23 if he used the Vikings' sparse Pro Bowl presence -- running back Adrian Peterson was the only Viking selected to the original team -- to motivate his players, Zimmer said, "We probably had some guys deserving and every year it’s kind of like that. I like this football team; I like the guys we have and to me they’re all Pro Bowlers. That’s really all that I care about."

Now, though, the Vikings have five players headed to the game, after safety Harrison Smith, defensive end Everson Griffen, linebacker Anthony Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater were all selected to the game as replacements. Bridgewater, Smith and Barr will play on Michael Irvin's team, squaring off on Sunday against Peterson and Griffen on Jerry Rice's team.

The fact the Vikings have a significant presence in the game -- five players the team drafted, including three first-round picks still in their rookie contracts -- provides some brand appeal for the Vikings' program.

"I do think it gives us a little bit of credibility to our football team," Zimmer said at the Senior Bowl this week. "They're starting to get some recognition; they're not so much no-name guys, I guess. That's probably the biggest thing."

The nature of the Pro Bowl has changed; with the game a week before the Super Bowl, and many players pulling out because of injuries, a record 133 players were either voted to Sunday's game or added as an alternate. If it's raised cries about the game's irrelevance, it's also provided young players a chance to be around other top-end talent. That, Zimmer said, can be a nice perk, too -- at least for now.

"I think it's good for them. I think it's good for the experience for them to go out there. A lot of them are first-time guys," Zimmer said. "I think it's good for them to be around other good football players. It's nice for our fans to say, 'Hey, we've got this.' Like everything, it raises expectations. It won't really mean much next year."