PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 23: Brodney Pool #22 of the New York Jets runs down field after intercepting a pass intended for Emmanuel Sanders #88 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third quarter of the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Brodney Pool's 2010 campaign was a tale of two seasons. The first part was not spectacular. He was not exactly terrible playing in the back at free safety early in the year, but it was difficult to remember any big plays he made aside from an interception Week 2 against the Patriots, an open field tackle on Brandon Marshall in Miami Week 3 to save the game, and breaking up a fourth down pass on that same drive to also save the game.
The coaching staff seemed to be disappointed in him. It was enough to quietly get him benched for Eric Smith against the Bengals, a move which hardly generated as much buzz as the benching of Kerry Rhodes did a year before almost to the date.
Something clicked from that point on, and Brodney was a different player. What happened? It was probably a combination of things. The benching and subsequent calling out in public by the coaching staff as a disappointment likely lit a fire in him to an extent. He also got more familiar with the scheme as the year progressed. A personnel development might have had the biggest impact, though. Injuries to Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith pressed Dwight Lowery to free safety and forced Brodney to move to strong safety. Pool started playing closer to the line, where his physical play had more of an impact against the run. He also played more man to man coverage instead of deep zone, where his free safety range was a benefit. Pool became a difference maker on the defense. Just think to the early third and ones he snuffed out in the Wild Card game at Indianapolis. He was getting to the ball.
Pool was signed to replace Kerry Rhodes, but in replacing Leonhard he was most valuable. He was frankly better than Jim at strong safety. Leonhard's strong suits made having Brodney out there redundant to a degree. They made the same kind of plays. Once Leonhard left the lineup, there was more for Pool to do.