ATLANTA — Brian Poole has lined up opposite Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense plenty of times. But on Thursday night, the cornerback will be doing it wearing a different uniform for the first time.
Poole spent the past three seasons playing for the Falcons and went head-to-head with Ryan and the Atlanta receivers every day in practice. The Falcons chose not to tender Poole as a restricted free agent this offseason, though, and the Jets grabbed him to replace Buster Skrine as their slot corner. On Thursday, Poole returns to Atlanta in green and white.
“I’m definitely going to be excited to see a lot of the guys I’ve been going to battle with the last couple of years,” Poole said this week. “Some are lifelong friends. It’s definitely a group of guys I won a lot of games with and there’s a relationship there, so I’m excited to see my guys.”
It is just a preseason game so the intensity won’t be as high as it could be if this were a meeting in the regular season. Poole started 21 of 47 games for the Falcons, including nine in 2018, after signing with the team in 2016 as an undrafted free agent out of Florida. He had three interceptions last year, 71 tackles, two fumble recoveries and three sacks.
Even though he was productive, Atlanta chose not to offer him the tender, which would have paid him around $2 million. The reports out of Atlanta said the Falcons were hoping to let him hit free agency and sign him for less. Instead, the Jets gave him a one-year, $3.5 million contract.
“I was surprised,” Poole said. “I really felt like we had something special going. We had a young core group of guys. We really felt we had it going in the right direction. Obviously, the guys upstairs felt a different way. It’s all a part of the game. It’s part of the business. I’m in New York, and I’m extremely happy to be here.”
The Jets have been hit hard by injuries at cornerback, but Poole has been in the lineup since he was cleared to practice in camp as the slot corner, a role that has gotten more important in recent years with the popularity of spread offenses.
Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams praised Poole this week.
“He’s done excellent,” Williams said. “I really wanted to try to get him when he was coming out [of college]. It’s good about the circle of life. I keep on talking to those guys about, when we’re interviewing you back at the combine or interviewing you back in the 30-minute interviews and that type of stuff and when you get a chance, you never know. It comes back around on free agency or whatever we get a chance to do that. I like it because it didn’t take much convincing when he got here. When we had the chance to bring him in here, he remembered those conversations, and he’s done very well. Now, just like all of them, it’s about staying healthy and helping them do the best they can do.”
One of the more entertaining battles in training camp each day has been Poole and slot receiver Jamison Crowder going at it.
“It’s been great,” Crowder said. “Day in, day out, we make each other better. He’s a very physical corner, a very physical player. He’s definitely a guy you have to use your hands and everything against. It’s been a great battle.”
Jets coach Adam Gase said you can see that physicality Poole brings.
“He’s sticking his face in the fan a lot. That’s what Brian does,” Gase said. “Brian does that, he plays the slot well, he’s really good with his leverage, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”