HONOLULU — Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice says he has a draft strategy mapped out for picking his Pro Bowl squad and wants quarterback Peyton Manning and linebacker Robert Mathis on his side.
Rice told reporters Monday he plans to take a balanced approach to selecting his players for the Jan. 26 game and expects rival alumni captain Deion Sanders to focus on defense.
"I can tell Deion is afraid of me," said Rice, taking a light swipe at Sanders for being unable to make a conference call to discuss their role in the game because of travel complications.
As alumni captains, Sanders and Rice have final say on the selections for each of the Pro Bowl teams. The two-day draft is a departure from the game's traditional AFC vs. NFC format, with a schoolyard-style selection process modified with several twists.
Rice says he expects the game to be a throwback to battles he and the former defensive played out when they were all-stars in the NFL. He says he wants bragging rights and knows Sanders wants the same.
"I'm really trying to keep up on all these players," Rice said. "I've never been in a war room but I think I have a feel for what they go through now."
Rice said he most likely plans to take skill position players in the early rounds — selecting from among quarterbacks, wide receivers and perhaps running backs — but keep things balanced with defense.
"For me it has to be 50-50 and I believe you win with defense," Rice said. "And some of these guys that are really making statements right now like Robert Mathis, Robert Quinn, Mario Williams, all these guys ... I'm thinking defense."
Manning and Mathis are in the running to be active player captains based on voting by fans. The top vote-getter on offense will be paired with the second-highest defensive pick and the top defensive pick with the second-highest offensive selection.
"If those guys happen to be in the Super Bowl, then all of a sudden I have to reassess everything and look at these other guys," Rice said. Players in the Super Bowl one week later do not play in the Pro Bowl.
When Rice and Sanders arrive in Hawaii, they'll flip a coin with the winner deciding whether they want to pick their pair of captains or have first pick among the rest of the 88 Pro Bowlers.
The rest of the draft will play out over two days, with 30 players on each team picked during a three-hour live draft Jan. 22 at a beachside estate in Oahu's popular Ko Olina resort area. Each team will select a third quarterback in the last round and the team that picks second will be allowed to force a trade on the other team after the draft ends.
Rice said he's been disappointed with the play in the Pro Bowl the last few years and is hoping the new format will allow the players to gain better chemistry. He said he's looking for players who will come in excited to play hard, put on a good show for fans and help him beat Sanders.
"The main focus for me is going to be to go out there to kick his butt," he said.
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org