Poteat considers his wild ride in the NFL to be a blessing
Veteran defensive back Hank Poteat reached new heights this season when he became the first player in NFL history to defeat the same opponent in consecutive weeks, helping the Pats beat the Dolphins on October 8 before finding a spot on the Jets' roster against Miami on October 15.
Poteat's career transactions log looks more like a truck driver's itinerary than an NFL résumé. Since signing with the Patriots two years ago, Poteat has been a part of 10 professional transactions. Prior to this season's Route 95 ping pong match between the Jets and Pats, Poteat spent 2003 shuffling between Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Carolina.
"You understand that it's part of the business, and you hear a lot of different stories when you come into the league," said Poteat in September. "As a player, you never expect that it's going to be you. That's what happens and you just have to continue to be ready. It's all about being patient. Some guys would get discouraged and give up."
When the 2006 season kicked off on September 7th, Poteat was without a job. After spending his summer in Bill Belichick's training camp, he was released just after the Patriots' third preseason game on August 29th.
Jets head coach Eric Mangini decided it would be good to get his staff familiar with Poteat, who had played under Mangini while he coached in New England. Mangini and GM Mike Tannenbaum signed the fifth-year veteran on September 1st only to release the Pennsylvania native a day later, but not all was lost.
"Hank is a guy I've known for a long time," Mangini said in September. "I wanted to give Hank the opportunity to come here and show the coaching staff things that he could do. You never know how things are going to go through the course of a season. The more exposure a player can have to the club and the club to the player, I think helps with the process if things do change over time."
Like the seasoned veteran he is, Poteat didn't lament the situation. He looked at the circumstances from the outside and learned a lot about himself and the game he loved. And it paid off.
"When you're in and out of the league, you tend to find some of the things that you weren't doing," said Poteat. "You become more of a student of the game: watching a lot of the teams, watching what other defensive backs are doing, and seeing what they could have done to put themselves in a better situation to make a play."
The Patriots gave Poteat his job back on September 27 just in time to prepare for their week four win over the Bengals. Poteat made just his second career start at cornerback against Cincinnati and was inserted into the lineup the following week when the Pats hosted the Dolphins. After recording a tackle in the 20-10 win, Poteat was released two days later.
Mangini, in need of an experienced defensive back, signed Poteat on October 11.Although he probably didn't have the time to acknowledge it, Poteat had been shipped to and from New England three times in just over one month's time. If that wasn't confusing enough, Poteat was in Hempstead just four days before the Jets would host the Dolphins, the team he had beaten just three days earlier.
"I don't want to say it's an advantage," Poteat said of playing Miami two weeks in a row. "But it's definitely two weeks of game planning for the same team. It's exciting; it's something I've never experienced. You're hearing the same thing over and over that you heard over and over the week before."
Poteat not only engraved his name into the NFL record books after the 20-17 triumph, he also turned his hard work into a prolonged spot in the Jets' locker room. Since returning to Weeb Ewbank Hall prior to the Miami game, Poteat has racked up 33 tackles and started the final six games of the regular season.
"Hank is a good example of when opportunity comes, being able to take advantage of it," Mangini said two days before his first playoff game as a head coach. "One of the things that I've always liked about Hank is his toughness, his competitiveness, and his professionalism."
The first year coach views Poteat's career as a good example of what he wants in his players both on the field and off.
"That's something we talk about as a team all the time," said Mangini. "There's going to be adversity through the season, there's going to be adversity in games, and really there's always going to be adversity in your career, your life, whatever the situation may be, and how you deal with that is so important, how you're able to move on from that and focus on the next thing, and he's done a good job with that."
When the Jets return to Foxborough this weekend, Poteat be a familiar face in enemy territory, which is okay with him. The playoff atmosphere at Gillette Stadium will be just another comforting sign of how far he has come and how long he has traveled.
"It means a lot to know that I persevered through all the ups and downs, and I never gave in and I just continued to work hard," he said. "It's truly a blessing for me because I know that God has placed me in the right situation. I'm happy to be here and glad to have met a great bunch of guys who I really appreciate and really admire a lot."
Friday Injury Report Jets Questionable:FB B.J. Askew (foot), RB Kevan Barlow (thigh), CB David Barrett (hip), WR Laveranues Coles (jaw), CB Andre Dyson (knee), FB James Hodgins (knee), C Nick Mangold (knee), OL Brandon Moore (ankle), S Kerry Rhodes (knee) & DL Dewayne Robertson (knee)
Probable: *LB Matt Chatham (foot), *RB Cedric Houston (calf), *QB Chad Pennington (calf), *DB Eric Smith (foot) & *DE Bryan Thomas (shoulder)
Patriots Out: S Rodney Harrison (knee)
Questionable: WR Bam Childress (ankle), RB Kevin Faulk (knee), CB/S Chad Scott (back), TE Benjamin Watson (knee) & NT Vince Wilfork (ankle)
Probable: *QB Tom Brady (r shoulder), *CB Ellis Hobbs (wrist), *DL Richard Seymour (elbow) & LB Mike Vrabel (back)
*Denotes players who participated in practice