Browns’ Pool ready to make a splash

Steve Doerschuk

With several sidebars.

Browns safety Brodney Pool came into the NFL with a bang.

“It was his first preseason game as a rookie,” cornerback Leigh Bodden said. “He was on kickoff coverage and ran into the wedge. He got knocked out. Concussion. Worst collision I’ve ever seen.”

Since then, Pool has been a ripple. It’s time for a splash.

“I have high expectations,” the 23-year-old safety said.

So does the team. General Manager Phil Savage has said Pool would have been a top-20 draft pick had he not left Oklahoma early. The Houston native didn’t start a game as a 2005 rookie. His eight starts in 2006 were the result of injuries.

Off the field, Pool could seem too quiet and nice.

Time to make some noise.

Teammate Joshua Cribbs predicts Pool will.

“He was really young when he was a rookie,” Cribbs said — Pool was 20 when Savage made him a No. 34 pick. “He was too young to lead by opening his mouth. He’s still one of the youngest on the team.

“But look at his eyes. You’ll see the fire. Watch him on the field. You’ll see that young drive. Watch him hit. He’ll bring the wood.”

But can he deliver?

Sean Jones believes he will.

“He’s in the same position I was last year, first year starting full-time,” said Jones, drafted in Round 2 the year before Pool was. “Last year, he was playing on the fly. A lot of times he came in the game at crunch time without knowing in advance what he was going to do.

“This year, he’ll have the full week, every week, to prepare.”

Jones had a breakout year that would have warranted Pro Bowl consideration had the Browns been a better team. Now, Jones thinks he and Pool can be an elite safety tandem on a dangerous team.

“As soon as Brodney was drafted,” Jones said, “I told him, ‘We’re probably gonna be the future.’ “

The future is Sunday. The Steelers are coming to town.

No one predicts Jones or Pool will rise to the level of Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu. Together, though, the Browns brass thinks they can be a two-man wrecking crew.

Does Pool think he and Jones can be ...

Pool finished the writer’s thought: “ ... an elite pair of safeties?”

He meant it as a rhetorical question.

“It’s something Sean and I talk about a lot,” he said. “Our lockers are side by side. I’m over at his house.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment.”

The Browns allowed an AFC North-worst 356 points in 2006 — Baltimore gave up 201.

A breakthrough by Pool could close the gap.

“I appreciate that guys like Phil Savage have confidence in me,” Pool said. “I hope to justify it. I pray about it every day.”

Reach Canton Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com.

BREAKOUT BOYS

Possible breakthrough players who could make the Browns a surprise team:

DB Brodney Pool. Talented enough to be Cleveland’s answer to Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu.

OLB Antwan Peek. Where were the Texans hiding this dude?

DL Shaun Smith. Could prevent three-man front from becoming a weakness.

QB Charlie Frye. Makes list for obvious reasons.

WR Tim Carter. Former Round 2 pick ran 10.3-second 100 meters in college, had puny production with Giants.

WR Joshua Cribbs. Punt (returns), Pass (catching) and Kick (returns) contender.

RB Jerome Harrison. Jamal Lewis dishes out a licking and will keep on ticking if this guy can keep him fresh.

POLAMALU SHOWS POOL THE MONEY

Third-year Brown Brodney Pool gets his first full shot as a starting safety at a time when the safety market is booming.

Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu set a new standard just before training camp by signing a four-year contract extension worth $30.2 million. It made him the highest-paid Steeler ever.

“You notice things like that,” Pool said. “Congratulations to him.

“I’ve still got years on my contract, so ... I’ve got to play.”

Earlier this decade, the Browns’ Robert Griffith was one of the league’s top-paid safeties at a time $3 million a year was considered too dear a price for a good safety.

“It’s good for young kids to see that this position is worth something,” Pool said. “It’s one of the funniest positions on the field.

“People have looked at safety as if it’s kind of lower than cornerback. We have value. It’s starting to show.”

POOL REPORT

A quick study of Brodney Pool:

Born  May 24, 1984, in Houston.

Size  6-foot-2, 205 pounds.

High school  Had 11 interceptions for Houston Westbury as a senior in 2001. Played power forward in basketball, gaining skills, he says, that helps him cover tight ends now.

College  Started for Oklahoma in 2003 and ’04. Coaches’ All-Big 12 second-teamer in ’04. His best game was the 2003 season’s Sugar Bowl against LSU (10 tackles, 49-yard interception return). His draft stock slipped after a bad bowl game against USC.

Browns highlights  No. 34 overall draft pick in 2005. Intercepted a Steve McNair pass in a 20-14 win over Tennessee in ’05. In ’06, started eight games and was in on 55 tackles ... intercepted Michael Vick in a win at Atlanta.

Nickname  “Dirty Pool.”

DOUBLE IMPACT

Brodney Pool and Sean Jones have a chance to become the best pair of safeties the Browns have had since Eric Turner and Stevon Moore from Bill Belichick’s 1994 playoff team. The usual safety tandems since then:

1995  Turner, Moore

1999  Marquez Pope, Corey Fuller

2000  Marquis Smith, Percy Ellsworth

2001  Earl Little, Devin Bush

2002-04  Little, Robert Griffith

2005  Chris Crocker, Brian Russell

2006  Russell, Sean Jones