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With Woody and D’Brickashaw Ferguson getting all the playing time at right and left tackle, respectively, Hunter has had to fill in at spots along the offensive line, as well as line up as a tackle-eligible. It’s common to hear, “No. 78 is eligible” throughout Jets games.

“I think playing the jumbo tight end has kept me in the game mentally and physically and technically,” Hunter said.

He has never caught a pass in a game, but Hunter insists he’s got pretty good hands in case offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer ever thinks about throwing his way.

“I’m happy with being a blocking tight end, but I think Schotty knows that if I need to catch a pass, that’s an option,” he said with a laugh. “I haven’t dropped a lot of balls in practice.”

Hunter filled in when Woody was initially hurt against Houston on Nov. 21 and came on last week when the starter left against Miami. He gave up a couple of sacks to the Dolphins’ Cameron Wake, giving Hunter plenty to think about this week.

“I mean, it was hard,” he said. “I gave up a couple of sacks to him and he’s a good guy, but there’s no excuses. I’ve got to give Mark as much time as he needs.”

The 29-year-old Hunter, a former third-round pick of Seattle, was a defensive tackle in college who switched to the offensive line in his junior year at the University of Hawaii. He spent three seasons with the Seahawks and one with Jacksonville before a season-ending knee injury in 2006.

Hunter was out of football for a year while recovering until then-Jets coach Eric Mangini took a chance on him and gave him a tryout.

“I’ve got a lot of love for him,” Hunter said. “He brought me back into the league.”

And, Hunter has made sure he has stayed. Ryan recently said he loves Hunter’s toughness and said he would want him to be the first guy walking off the team bus to intimidate opponents.

“Absolutely,” left guard Matt Slauson said, laughing. “Wayne is able to flip a switch. In the locker room, he’s a great guy, just one of the guys joking around, laughing. Then, on the field, all of the sudden, he’s a madman, just crazy. You can see the look in his eyes, like, ‘Oooh, I’m not getting in his way.’”

Hunter plans to get in the way of Steelers linemen as often as he can Sunday.

“It’s great, not only because of all of that stuff from last year, but just being through the ups and downs of my career,” Hunter said. “It’s nice to be where I am right now, finally being able to start. Better late than never.”