Hank Poteat distracts Eagles WR Hank Baskett.
Has Hank Poteat finally found a professional home with the New York Jets?
"I don't look at it like that, but I definitely feel I've found somewhere where I understand the system," said the 30-year-old cornerback after Friday's practice. "They have given me a lot of opportunities, just to be here another year and being able to go out there and play. I don't look at it as if I've found a home."
After seven games, Poteat leads the Jets with two interceptions. They have come in successive weeks and they've come in enemy territory against two of the league's top quarterbacks in Donovan McNabb and Carson Palmer.
The takeaways also happened to be the first interceptions of his career, coming in his seventh NFL season.
"I didn't do anything special," he said modestly. "I happened to be at the right place at the right time."
New York seems to be the right place for the 5'10", 195-pound defensive back. Poteat, a native of Harrisburg, Pa., and a University of Pittsburgh product, was selected by his hometown Steelers in the third round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
"A lot of times you see rookies go to teams and teams really need a corner. I went into a situation where Pittsburgh didn't really need corners. I was used as a return man, so I really didn't get a lot of experience," he said. "I wasn't too much of a student as far as understanding everything I needed to know as a defensive back.
"But the longer I've been in the game — especially the systems I've been going to in New England and here — helped me grow and just understand where I needed to be."
After 41 games with Pittsburgh, Poteat's strange trip began. He had short stints with the Buccaneers, Panthers and Patriots from August 2003 to August '05. He re-signed with the Pats in October 2005 and finally earned his first career start in Week 17 vs. Miami, registering a team-high nine tackles for defensive coordinator Eric Mangini.
"You never enjoy that, especially when you have a family — it's tough because my family for the most part is always with me," he said. "But I always keep a positive attitude, understanding that if not's here, hopefully it's going to be somewhere else. God always took care of me no matter what situation I was in, so I always had peace in my heart. I was never going to stress about bouncing around."
In 2006 the Patriots and Jets combined to sign and release Poteat six times from August to October. But he emerged with the Green & White, playing 11 games and starting six times as the Jets played stingy defense in the season's second half.
"You know what you're going to get with Hank. You know he's going to be where he's supposed to be," Mangini said. "He's going to play the technique he's being coached to play. He's going to be the same guy every day that he shows up at the facility. He's going to be the same guy in games. That consistency is what you're always looking for, so you know what to expect in terms of performance."
Last week, Poteat again found himself in the starting lineup. He lined up at left corner while rookie Darrelle Revis shifted to the right. It was the ninth start of his career.
"I'll always have confidence, but it definitely builds onto it that you know you can go out there on a weekly basis and compete, that you can go out there when they need you," he said.
"He's got a very good approach to the multiple positions. He's been a role player for a lot of years and he's done that really well," said Mangini. "He's gotten some opportunities to be a starter at different points. He's done that very well, and whatever he can do to help the team he's going to do."
Mangini holds Poteat in high regard. He has become a fine student of the game and is a reliable player.
"You know that every single play he's going to try as hard as he can and do everything he can to be in the right spot," said the second-year head coach. "He studies hard, he works at anticipating routes and he's a good tackler."
Poteat and his wife, Jasmine, have three young children, ages 6, 2 and 6 months, and they've all had to endure a lot of relocating and packing over the past few years. But they share a great faith and there was always peace in his heart.
And no matter how long Poteat remains a Jet, he will always be making a contribution.
Mangini, he said, "understands I'm a guy who doesn't complain and even if I'm not out there playing, I can help some of the younger guys. I'm willing to play wherever they need me. I'm not a guy who is hard to get along with — I'm basically a team player."