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Original Issue

Safety First

Opportunity knocks for two recent second-round draft picks in the Browns' defensive backfield

A SECOND-ROUNDNFL draft pick expects to start, if not right away then before very long.That's how Sean Jones saw it when the Browns took him out of Georgia in 2004.Same for Oklahoma's Brodney Pool when he was Cleveland's choice in '05. Neitherhas gotten a start yet, but one will get the call--and only one, because bothplay strong safety--when the Browns open the season at home against the Saintson Sept. 10. The two are vying for the spot that opened up in March with thetrade of last year's starter, Chris Crocker, to the Falcons. Coach RomeoCrennel says the potential he saw in the pair gave him the confidence to makethat move. "Their upside was good enough that we would take that chance andcoach them up," says Crennel. "At least one of them would come to theforefront."

Though Jones wasdrafted a year ahead of Pool, he missed all of 2004 after tearing his left ACLin a minicamp. Last year he led the Browns special teams with 20 tackles butappeared in only four games at safety. Pool was used in the dime package in 13games, logging an interception, a sack and 26 tackles. Through the first weekof camp, Crennel gave Jones a slight edge based on his superior hitting abilityand deep coverage. The coach says Pool shows his lack of seasoning attimes.

Of course,Cleveland hopes that pitting Jones and Pool against each other will speed bothplayers' development. Veteran free safety Brian Russell, who'll play alongsidethe winner, says the two are better this year at making coverage calls,disguising coverages and moving decisively at the snap. During a seven-on-sevenpassing drill last week, Pool sniffed out a route and reacted in time to batthe ball from a receiver over the middle. The oppressive heat had stifled moston-field chatter that day, but Pool's play roused teammates to shout,"Yeah, Brodney!"

Jones and Poolare friends and downplay the competition. "We're both from big-time collegeprograms," says Pool. "We competed against friends in college and inhigh school, so it's nothing new. It's part of football."

The starter won'tbe named until after each player gets his turns in the preseason games andshows how well he can run the defensive backfield. And the contest doesn't endwhen the season begins. Whether it's Jones or Pool who starts against NewOrleans, the other will play in dime packages and continue pressing for thestarting job. Says Pool, "Training camp is just the beginning of thebattle."



NO SWEAT Products of big-time programs, Georgia's Jones (26) and Oklahoma's Pool (21) are accustomed to facing strong competition.