Patriots Have Secondary Help Ready

Injuries to football players are an everyday occurrence, which is why players learn more than one assignment if they want to stick around. As injuries happen to starters, backups are forced into action and when they're hurt, teams turn to the practice squad. The New England Patriots' practice squad has been a busy place in the last few weeks as the team juggles members to address their injury situation. PI catches up with the only member of the secondary on that unit, S Ray Ventrone.

PHOTO: New England Patriots rookie safety Raymond Ventrone (41) pulls in a ball during drills Aug. 30, 2005. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Ventrone Ready When The Call Comes
By Ricky Popolizio

He might not be the next Rodney Harrison, but Patriots safety Raymond Ventrone possesses many similar qualities to the Patriots hardest hitter. The 5'10" 200 pounder has excellent speed and good strength to go along with his tenacity. During Ventrone's time at Villanova, he became known for his ability to pummel opponents with punishing hits.

"I don't think I would just yet [On being compared to Rodney Harrison] because I haven't had an opportunity as far as game experience. But I mean I guess you could say I've learned a lot from the veterans on the team. Rodney is an incredible leader and helped me out a lot coming from college into the NFL, not only on the field but things off the field, like nutrition, working out, and getting into a good routine."

Ventrone was signed to the Patriots practice squad on September 14, but the road to New England hasn't been all that smooth for the Bridgeville, Pennsylvania native. He was passed up by the Patriots when it came time for the final overall selection (255th overall) in the 2005 NFL draft. Tight end Andy Stokes from William Penn was selected instead. But the next day Ventrone was contacted by the Patriots and signed.

"It really doesn't matter now because I'm still here, and the past is the past and now all you can do is move on," said Ventrone, after turning down his music and pondering the question. "It's kind of like looking at this past week [against Carolina]. You can't dwell on this loss. You just gotta get ready for next week."

Since Ventrone was signed to New England, he has been on a rollercoaster ride. Stokes, who was selected instead of Ventrone in the draft, was waived on August 8. Ventrone then managed to make it through all cuts but the final 53 man roster and was released on September 3. A day later, he was signed to the practice squad, before again being released on September 7. Linebacker Andre Torrey took Ventrone's place on the practice squad for about a week, and then the two again changed places on September 14, thus landing Ventrone on the Patriots practice squad for the time being.

"Being in my position, it's always nerveracking," said Ventrone. "But the more you think about it, the more you get caught up in it. I just try to take it for what it's worth and do my best on the field. The more I can do that, the longer I'll be around. All you can do is your best, the rest is out of your hands."

Through it all, Ventrone and Torrey have remained friends, despite the apparent competition between the two for a practice squad spot.

"Me and him are buddies. He's a cool dude. Me and him have been here since day one after the draft. We both got signed as free agents. But yeah he's a pretty cool kid, and we get along well."

Ventrone's mentality is likely the best approach to take for players in his situation, but he has also grown accustomed to having people question his ability to play the game. At Villanova, he was one of the top safeties in I-AA football and was an All-American candidate. He also was named to the pre-season first team All-Atlantic 10. Still, many people said he couldn't play Division I-A football.

"It doesn't necessarily [make me feel like I have to prove anything]. It motivates you to do well, so you can show yourself that you can do it."

Doubts about Ventrone grew when the safety broke his fibula as a senior and missed the last seven games of the season. It also may have cost him a much higher draft number, but the leg has healed and Ventrone is back to full strength.

"I started running in February and it was sore for the first few months, but since then everything has been great and I don't even tape my ankle or think about it. I'm passed that and am feeling good."

More than anything, Ventrone is happy that he was able to land a spot on the Patriots practice squad. No other teams contacted the rookie when he was released, and there is no other place that Ventrone would rather play.

"I've had a great experience. I don't think I would have enjoyed myself as much anywhere else. All the players and coaches have welcomed me with open arms and helped me out a lot. I think I've become a lot better football player since being here. It's a great city to play football in with the fans and the organization. I'm extremely happy with where I'm at right now."

Now that Ventrone is on the practice squad roster, his goal is to remain on the team, and eventually earn some game time.

"Right now my role is to make the team better and going 100 percent every play in practice and giving both the defensive and offensive guys a good look and trying to simulate game situations. That's one thing I have to offer, my speed is pretty good. Hopefully I can contribute on special teams at some point. You always hear coaches say speed is needed on special teams, so I feel I could contribute there somewhere down the line."

At the rate that Patriots players go down, Ventrone's opportunity could be sooner rather than later. Already this year, the Patriots have seen Randall Gay, Tyrone Poole and Chad Scott go down. Despite the abundance of backfield help the Pats sought out this offseason, a few injuries could land Ventrone in a game.

"I haven't heard anything [from the team] thus far, no. But I feel like I'm very capable of playing when my time comes. I just have to be patient and keep working hard. You never know what can happen. It's a very long season. I prepare for every game just like I'd be playing in it. I'm doing all the things that everyone else is, I'm just not on the active roster. But if my time comes, I'll be ready."

A combination of confidence, hard work and talent will likely earn Ventrone a chance to play, but he also knows that there is still plenty of work to do until that day comes.

"I just need to keep getting better every day, honestly. Technique, effort, everything. If I do that, I think I can be a pretty good football player. But I need to do those things, in the film room, understanding things, assignment, technique, they all tie in."

The way the Patriots looked this past Sunday against Carolina, there could be a need for some new legs and tenacity in New England. The special teams play was poor, particularly in allowing Chris Gamble to run for a 76-yard punt return, which led to Stephen Davis' second touchdown before halftime.

"I mean I wasn't at the game, so all I could see was the stuff on TV. But Coach always says we can't be a heavily penalized team, and we have to play better this upcoming Sunday. A lot better to win. We need to not to dwell on a loss, because that messes you up for next week, so we've put it behind us and everybody's already started watching film and everything for Pittsburgh."

Chances are this week will be another on the practice squad for Ventrone, but he's doing all the right things in the meantime. He is another blue-collar guy on a team made up of similar characters, all with the right mindset to succeed.

"I'd love to stay here as long as I can. I'm really comfortable where I am. All the guys are cool. Going to practice and meetings every day, it's not like a drag. From what I've heard from other players on other teams, it's not always the best scenario [being on a practice squad]. I hope I'm here for a long time. This is obviously the best organization in football. They have great people, great coaches, and yeah I'd love to stay here.

"My goal is to make the team eventually and contribute as much as I can, in any way. Special teams, defense, practice squad. I want to be part of this team, and I just like my situation right now. I'm really happy."

Ventrone will be ready should the Patriots call his name. With injuries mounting, that call may not be far away.

Ricky Popolizio is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. For more of his past articles search the archives. To contact Ricky visit his bio page

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