NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee safety Chris Hope knew he would play football again after a neck injury ended his 2007 season early. That didn't stop the seven-year veteran from wondering whether he could return to play with his signature physical style.
Consider any last lingering doubts erased.
Hope was named to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday, one of six Tennessee Titans named to the AFC squad.
"I was at a loss for words," Hope said of hearing the news. "It's just a blessing to come where I came from, the serious injury that I faced last year just to be able to go back out and play the game and just to find my confidence and find my swagger and just to play back at a high level again is just a blessing."
The Titans, who own the NFL's best record at 12-2, doubled their number of Pro Bowlers from a year ago. Only the New York Jets had more with seven.
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is the only one of the three Titans named to the Pro Bowl in 2007 to repeat this season. His selection means he'll be a free agent in the offseason after he was franchised by the Titans for 2008.
The other AFC starters from Tennessee include center Kevin Mawae, who will make his seventh Pro Bowl appearance in 15 seasons and cornerback Cortland Finnegan. They are joined by rookie running back Chris Johnson and left tackle Michael Roos.
Hope was injured making a tackle in Cincinnati on Nov. 25, 2007, and went into spasms as he laid on the turf. He had surgery in January to repair his neck and spent four months in rehabilitation.
He thanked coach Jeff Fisher, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, assistants Chuck Cecil and Marcus Robertson and general manager Mike Reinfeldt for sticking with him. Hope responded by picking off four passes, which ties him for sixth in the AFC. He ranks third on the Tennessee defense with 82 tackles.
"Any other team, I may have been released or they may have drafted a guy to come in and take my position or play my role and not have faith and trust me in that I would come back," Hope said.
Johnson joins Earl Campbell as the only rookie running backs in this franchise's 49-year history to be named to the Pro Bowl. Johnson ranks second in the AFC in both rushing and yards from scrimmage.
"He's definitely deserving," Roos said. "Obviously, he's coming out of the draft and everybody's questioning, trying to figure out who this kid was. For him to be able to make it shows just how good a player he really is."
Among those snubbed in the voting was kicker Rob Bironas.
He was a Pro Bowler and named an All Pro last season and has been just as solid this year. Bironas is tied for second in the AFC in scoring with 120 points and leads the conference in touchbacks with 19.
Hope said the Titans had others deserving of Pro Bowl recognition including safety Michael Griffin, who has five interceptions. Tennessee ranks second in the NFL in points allowed and fourth in yards per game.
Haynesworth, who sprained his left knee and will miss the final two games, already has a career-high 8½ sacks. Finnegan, a seventh-round draft pick out of Samford, is finishing up his second year as a starter and is tied for second in the NFL with five interceptions.
Finnegan said he just wants to run out in the street yelling but will wait until the day after the Pro Bowl.
"This is God's gift to me. I couldn't be more excited to be picked among your peers to go to the Pro Bowl," Finnegan said. "I always mess around and tell these guys I got fitted for my hula skirt last year. I wanted to work hard."
Roos learned of the news while on his way to buy Christmas presents. The first player from Estonia to play in the NFL has started every game in his four seasons and is the only left tackle in the league who has not allowed a sack, according to STATS. He credited signing a six-year, $43 million contract in April with helping get his name out.
"It's one of those things it's a very team sport. It's one of the few individual honors you can get. It's great to be recognized. You definitely don't get it on your own merit. With me, four other guys play next to me. That definitely helped me to get to where I am," Roos said.