PHOENIX —** They say you go with what you know, and it certainly was no shock to see Michael Irvin do just that in selecting DeMarco Murray—a fellow Dallas Cowboy, naturally—with the first pick to head up his Pro Bowl team at the Kickoff Press Conference on Tuesday.
And that worked out just fine for his opponent Cris Carter on the other side, who wasn't quite dismayed to be "stuck" with three-time First Team All-Pro defensive dynamo J.J. Watt and Antonio Brown, the NFL's leading receiver.
Though how the rest of the teams shape up will have to wait until Wednesday, the start on Tuesday was as contentious as you'd expect between the two Hall of Fame receivers.
Irvin, who won the coin toss to select his captains first, did so with grace: "We just did the coin flip, and of course, just like the rest of the week, I won. ... I cannot surpass or bypass great players that are in my face right now, and so I am taking the captain team of DeMarco Murray and Joe Haden."
Upon Irvin's selection, however, Carter wasn't exactly glum to receive his duo.
"I will gladly accept the leading receiver, the best receiver in pro football, A.B. from Miami and I will also select as a consolation prize, to play in this game, the best player in the NFL, Mr. J.J. Watt," Carter said. "Good luck offensive line. Let's get busy."
Busy is probably the best word for the work the teams will have to put in starting with Wednesday's draft before going into three practices from Thursday to Saturday before the game. There will be plenty of Broncos to pick from that night with a franchise-record 11 Pro Bowl selections, though three of those—Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas—were replaced due to various reasons.
It all starts with Wednesday's draft, and Carter said his strategy when picking is one that will draw mostly from the players' thoughts.
"We're going to look at the players that are available," he said. "Also, I'm going to take the input of the guys that are going to be out there," Carter said. "So as far as J.J., who they want to play with, who they're interested in playing against, teammates, if they want to play with [them]. That's going to be part of the strategy.
"So, for me, it's to put together these guys, it's their year, it's their time, the kids they want to play with, the guys they want to play with. My team's going to be up predominantly of what they feel about the players that are selected."
And then on Irvin's side, Murray jokingly said he'd be lobbying for their team to pick his offensive linemen with their top picks, behind whom he ran for a league-leading 1,845 yards.
From there, the preparation will move to the field. When you think about the process that goes into the start of the season, you think of the OTAs, training camp and all the long, arduous preparation. Though much of that is preparing physically, a big part of that is building and perfecting the intricacies of a scheme. With only three days to put together a team and then put it on a field, it might seem like a lot of harried building, but Carter and Irvin are confident in their and the players' capabilities.
"I think we don't give the players credit for how smart they are and how bright they are," Carter said. "They're the absolute best and I'm sure they don't need a whole bunch of practice because they're all marksmen, they're all the best athletes in the world, they're the best athletes the NFL has to offer and they have that rare ability of being able to be relaxed and learn a new game plan and be around 40 other different teammates and still play on Sunday close to the level of their ability. And it just speaks to how great they are and the essence of the greatness of the athletes that we have in the league."
Though it's not expected that players will be introduced to numerous foreign concepts, Irvin said much of the adjustments would simply be changes in terminology.
"Football's about concepts and these guys have just spent the last six months going over the concepts," Irvin said. "Now what we'll do this week is maybe teach them some terminologies, but they're working with the same concepts that they've been working on all year long. Once they get down to terminology, it'll come easy.
"I remember coming over here and playing with the San Francisco staff and they were putting in that West Coast offense and it was a very difficult offense. I couldn't pick it up. So Troy [Aikman] was the quarterback, he would call the play and then tell me 'Run a three route' because that's how we ran out routes. Guys are smart like Chris says and it works out. It will be a smooth transition going down on that football field on Sunday."
One of the most significant changes, as NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent revealed on Tuesday, will be that the goal posts will be made about 4.5 feet narrower (from 18.6 feet wide to 14 feet) and extra points will be moved back to the 15-yard-line, which would be about a 33-yard field goal attempt.
While the natural competitiveness among many of the league's best players will kick in on the field and drive the game, Irvin and Carter said they would also enjoy the ability to not only coach, but to simply interact and help out players who might be in similar shoes to the ones they were in not too long ago.
"We love the game and we love what the league is giving us an opportunity to do with our lives and with how it has helped us change the landscape of our lives and the landscapes of the lives of our families," Irvin said. "So to have this opportunity to be with these current guys, to hang around with these guys to coach, to captain, however you want to say it, [we] hopefully get the opportunity to impart whatever wisdom that we learned over the years."