Tauren Poole has heard it all since his Tennessee career came to a close earlier than he had hoped.
Even before the running back made his infamously honest and telling comments after the Kentucky loss, Poole already had received plenty of fan feedback about some of his less-than-stellar performances throughout a disappointing senior season.
"For them to criticize me, I didn't take it to heart," Poole said in a recent interview. "I know that they want to see their program be so successful. They want to be the players be successful.
"It's all about how you handle it. You have to speak the truth and the truth hurts. But it makes you better."
In the months since he ran for just 32 yards on nine carries against the Wildcats, Poole has apparently done just that. It's not exactly a common occurrence for a running back who didn't see much playing time in his first two seasons and ran for less than 4 yards per carry as a senior to get the NFL draft buzz Poole has generated.
He heads into this weekend's NFL Combine in Indianapolis more confident, perhaps, than he was with the ball in his hands all throughout the 2011 season.
"Whatever happens from here on forward is going to happen," Poole said. "I just have to work for everything I get and that's the way I'm thinking now. You never know what's going to happen on draft day."
Among the zillion or so mock drafts that are floating all over the Internet, Poole's name is a common fixture in the middle of the pack. CBS Sports ranks him as the 12th-best running back available — sandwiched between Florida's Chris Rainey and Ohio State's Dan Herron — and picks him to go in the fourth round. ESPN Scouts Inc. doesn't project a landing spot for Poole, but has him ranked 15th among running backs.
So, a little worse than former Vol Montario Hardesty (second round, 2010) but a lot better than Arian Foster (undrafted, 2009). Considering that 29 running backs were selected in last year's draft, it would be one heck of a surprise if Poole suffered a similar fate as Foster.
"(Scouts) like my toughness and my passion for the game, the way I run the football," Poole said. "I guess I got to capitalize on those things and get better overall."
Since the week Poole spent last month at the Shrine Bowl, an event in which he was presented with the Pat Tillman Award for "best exemplifying character, intelligence, sportsmanship and service," the folks at ESPN Scouts Inc. and CBS Sports have had plenty of time to carve up and dissect every positive and negative Poole would bring to an NFL franchise.
ESPN Scouts Inc. is a fan of Poole's durability (played in 38 games without a major injury) and his intangibles — "Intelligent, hardworking young man. Is mature and handles his business on the field and in the classroom." They don't feel the same way about his height (5-foot-10, which is slightly too tall), his weight (215, a little on the heavy side) and his speed (last clocked at 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash).
Going into even greater detail, ESPN Scouts Inc. raves about Poole's vision/patience — "Is patient and will let his blocks develop, but he's also a decisive runner that always seems to be working to get north."
But the they are concerned about what he can do in the passing game — "Is limited as a route runner and shows some stiffness when attempting to adjust to a poorly thrown ball."
This is a different kind of criticism for Poole. He can actually do something about it.
Poole, who is working out with a number of other future NFL players in Boca Raton, Fla., said he's focused on dropping his body fat and increasing his flexibility.
"I can already tell there's a difference in my body," Poole said. "People that see me now think I'm the skinniest man in the world because I've lost a lot of fat. I like seeing the big changes and the results coming through.
"As long as I continue to work hard and do what I need to do, just playing and stay the course, I should be fine."
Though Poole made comments that may have indicated otherwise, that's exactly how he feels when he reflects on his career with the Vols. He wouldn't change a thing, he said, because "it built me up and broke me down."
"This is who I am," Poole said. "I'll never look back and say I wish I never went through it."