Poteat Leads Charge For Resurgent N.Y. Jets Playoff Drive
HEMPSTEAD, NY - Jonathan Vilma sits two lockers from the right of his stall, so the quiet cornerback normally goes about his business while a group of reporters talk to the team's leading tackler about the challenges of this week's opposing offense.
But on this particular Friday morning before practice, Vilma is the one that gets to dress without microphones and tape recorders in his face. This day, the media contingent crowds around Henry Major Poteat, a soft-spoken defensive back that goes by the name Hank.
"Here they come, penguin must have said something good about ya," receiver Laveranues Coles said with a laugh as the reporters approach, invoking his nickname for coach Eric Mangini.
In his morning news conference, Mangini did in fact praise Poteat, who is receiving more time in the Jets secondary rotation as a valuable nickel and dime back.
The 29-year-old is coming off his best two-game stretch since joining the team in mid-season. During a victory over the Texans two weeks ago, he compiled a season-high six tackles in his first start of the year, showing no signs of rust after not playing the previous three games.
At this point in his career, Poteat is accustomed to sitting out for long durations. While many players sulk if their playing time is cut, the former Pittsburgh colligate defensive back still remains ready to go regardless of the game situation. He does have a chance to started for a second straight week this Sunday during a blowout road victory over the Packers, making another six tackles, including 4 solo stops.
For Poteat, just getting time on the field is something to savor. Consider that since last March, he was either signed or released seven different times. After playing 13 regular and post-season games for New England from 2004-2005, the Patriots re-signed him in the spring but cut the Harrisburg native on Aug. 29. He signed with the Jets three days later, playing in the team's final preseason game that very night before being cut the following day.
Poteat said he played well enough to merit more than just a one-day stay on Long Island, but eventually went back to New England, playing in two games before being released by the Patriots for the second time. Once again available on the wire, Mangini, who served as the Patriots defensive coordinator last season, brought back the familiar 5-10, 195-pound DB on Oct. 11.
"I know what he [Mangini] wants from me and where I need to fit into the scheme that he's trying to run here with the Jets," Poteat said. "The terminology is pretty much the same. You just come right in and play your technique basically, the same as I would in New England. It didn't take long to get comfortable."
While recording at least one tackle in only three of the six games since that time, Poteat remains a valuable role in his limited minutes, according to the coaching staff. The payoff was his breakout performance last week, which Mangini attributed to his good fundamentals.
"One of the things I like about Hank is that he always works on doing it the right way," Mangini said. "If he's supposed to have outside leverage, he's going to have outside leverage. If he's supposed to be playing high to low, that's what he's going to do, and he's very consistent in trying to execute the things that we ask him to execute.
"I've always liked that. I like his toughness. He's very competitive and he's a really good person on top of all that."
Though Poteat is technically in his sixth NFL season, his career record shows only 60 games. He started his pro career with his hometown Steelers, who drafted him in the third-round of the 2000 Draft. Pittsburgh utilized him as a return man for his first three seasons, before Poteat played just one game for Tampa Bay in 2003.
The lack of interest from teams around the league continued in 2004, as Poteat did not play a single down in the regular season. But he caught a break when a spot opened up on New England's roster right before the playoffs, and he played in all three post-season games during the Patriots' run to a Super Bowl championship.
"Early in my career it was difficult, but I look at every situation as a blessing, because it helped me develop as a player and as a person," Poteat said about his long pro football journey. "I grew through each experience."
In six games since coming back to New York, Poteat recorded nine tackles. The Jets are 7-5 and tied for the one of the AFC's wild card playoff spot. Should they continue to stack up wins, Poteat could have another chance to play in the post-season.
While getting prepared for the team's last full practice before playing in Green Bay Sunday, the soft-spoken Poteat talks about playing in the 2004 AFC championship game against the team that drafted him. His words remain quiet when asked about seeing time in a Super Bowl, but his eyes widen as he provides his recollection, suggesting that should the Jets pull a miracle and make a deep playoff run, they'll have at least one veteran that can try to articulate what the experience can be.