Four days into Patriots training camp 2003 and one of the team's biggest free agent signings, based on bonus money anyway, isn't exactly thrilled with his situation. Veteran cornerback Tyrone Poole, signed this March to a four-year contract that included a $1.8 million signing bonus, is already a bit frustrated with his limited practice reps.
Through five training camp practices, and with last year's starters Ty Law and Otis Smith on the sidelines, Poole has seen limited action in time with the third defensive group. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has always cautioned against placing undue importance on practice grouping in terms of depth, but Poole for one has noticed the number of players stepping on the field before him. So far rookies Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel have worked with the first unit, Ben Kelly and Antwan Harris with the second, while Poole, Leonard Myers and Dyshod Carter fill out the action.
"There's a lot more into it than actually performance wise," Poole said when questioned about the situation on his way off the practice field Saturday morning. "There is a lot of other stuff that I don't care to mention because I don't want to speak through the press. But hopefully things will be resolved and it will be for the good of everybody and life goes on."
Based on his experience and the amount of money the team has invested in the veteran, it isn't unrealistic that many expected Poole to step in for Law and Smith in practice, but it has been the pair of rookies that have seen the bulk of the early practice action. When questioned on that assumption in Saturday morning's press conference, Belichick focused more on what the rookies have done than what other players may be lacking.
"I would say that those two, Asante and Eugene, have gotten a lot of reps because they have been here for quite a long time, since the middle of May," Belichick said. "They've gotten a lot of opportunities, and the opportunities they have gotten they have done well with and taken advantage of. There's no reason not to keep giving them the reps, but I think everybody else is taking their turn too, other than the ones that are injured."
According to Poole, a 5-9, 188-pound corner out of Fort Valley State, this is the first time in his football career that he has been in the type of situation in which he currently resides.
"This is the first time for this," Poole acknowledged. "Like I said there are a whole lot of things that I could say, but I am not going to speak through the papers and the ink. Hopefully everything can be on the tail end ending up good for both sides. I will just show up every day until something else occurs and go from there."
Poole, a seven-year NFL veteran originally drafted in the first round of the 1995 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers, did not participate in the Patriots offseason program after signing this spring. And while the veteran of 108 career games and 89 starts has plenty of experience to look back on in his quest to fit in with this defense, he admits that he isn't entirely mentally dedicated to the game right now.
"I am not totally focused because my family is not going to be here with me this year," Poole said. "So with the complex defense that they have here it's kind of a deterring thing to have half of your focus somewhere else and some of your focus in another place. But overall it's all right.
"It is kind of difficult when you are focused with your family, your concerns with your family, and things like that. The majority of the guys here, I don't know how many of the guys are actually married and have kids and things like that, but when that part of you is not going to be with you then it makes you reevaluate a whole lot of situations. For the single guys, they can make a transition anywhere, but if you are a family man and you've been with your family for four years and things like this happen it makes you reevaluate every situation that you are involved in."
Poole, who arrived in the area last Tuesday from his home in Atlanta, checks in with his family on a consistent basis, but he revealed that those calls don't always bring the comforting feeling that one might expect they would.
"[The calls] make it even worse," Poole said. "Just yesterday I tried to speak with my daughter, she's three, and I told my wife to put her on the phone and she said she didn't want to speak to me. She said, 'No daddy.' So it's like the kids feel it as well. You have to have that father figure, family intact."
Poole admitted that his current situation bears a resemblance to one from two years ago when he signed with the Denver Broncos. That season, feeling he couldn't leave his wife and two daughters, including one a newborn at the time, Poole retired from the game and was placed on a reserve/left squad list by the Broncos. Poole returned to play in 2002, starting four-of-16 games played in Denver and finishing with 55 tackles and 10 passes defensed.
"2001, I actually didn't play that season," Poole said. "That was one of the reasons because my family wasn't going to be with me. So I had to make a decision and I felt like I was needed more at home. Football is a series of revolving doors. Even the guys that they drafted this year, they are looking for guys to replace them next year. The NFL is a revolving door. You get the best out of it that you can and try to secure the foundations that you grow with, family, God our Lord and Savior. You try to concentrate on the things that you know are going to be there for you."
So has the thought of retirement crept back into Poole's mind this week?
"Like I said, I am just keeping an open mind. Anything can happen from here to next week and from here to tomorrow. Every second is opportunity to change, to make something that is going bad turn into good. But my focus is definitely…I have a little focus with my family and I have a little focus here. And that is kind of bad because here I am not able to put in the full work that I am required of. You come out sometimes emotionally drained and it's kind of tough. Only a family man would actually know."
Poole knows that from a football standpoint, and considering his seemingly somewhat precarious spot on the roster right now, that training camp should be the toughest part. But he also knows that in terms of seeing his family, nothing will change when camp breaks.
"Even if my family was here, regardless, I would still not be able to see them because of training camp. But it is a different story once training camp is over. Everybody else is going home to a family and I am going home to an empty house."