Meet the “New” Steeler: S Ross Ventrone

ventrone_ross

via Steelers.com

There aren’t a lot of ways in which the Steelers and the Patriots are similar. The style of their head coaches could scarcely be more different. The same could be said for their quarterbacks.

There are a few things they share, though. One is multiple Super Bowl appearances during the 21st century, some more successful than others. The other is Ross Ventrone.

Ventrone holds the distinction, if you want to call it that, of very likely being the most-signed player in the history of the NFL by the same team(s). He has been involved in 41 different NFL transactions, most of them with the Patriots, who were the team who originally picked up the Clairton, PA native as a UDFA after the 2010 draft. And while his history with the Steelers can’t hold a candle to the Patriot’s record, he has multiple Steelers transactions beginning in 2013. Because of a nagging hamstring injury he was the player last season who was waived to make room for Martavis Bryant after his suspension was over. He rejoined the Patriots, briefly, and re-signed with the Steelers in December.

He was the subject of a “Mayne Event” ESPN video, back when he had only been signed and cut 21 times. Don’t miss this video—it’s short, and well worth your time:

Strictly speaking, Ventrone isn’t a new Steeler, or even a new old Steeler, since he’s been with the team (again) since December. But I think he deserves an article anyhow.

Why? Because Ventrone is the kind of guy you can’t help but root for. He has a Troy Polamalu-esque head of hair and a Brett Keisel-esque sense of humor. Which he obviously needs. (The sense of humor, not the hair, although I think the hair adds to the mystique…)

It was fortunate for Pittsburgh he was back this offseason, because he was perfectly positioned to make his series of videos in support of the Penguins. One of my favorites is this one:

#StanleyCup

A post shared by Ross Ventrone (@rustybenson) on

His twitter handle is @RustyBenson35, and he’s definitely worth a follow. Here are some recent tweets:

Or this:

He even apparently has a message for this site:

But what does he bring to the team besides great videos and a vast amount of experience signing things? That’s difficult to say, because had he ever played phenomenally well he wouldn’t have been cut, again and again. Here’s a few stats, and there really are just a few.

He made four tackles in his exceedingly limited defensive snaps with the Steelers in 2015. This was in three games, including the playoff game @Bengals. He played in nine games (with the Steelers) during the 2014 season and had seven tackles, so his average tackles/game is improving. Or as Mike Tomlin might say, the arrow is pointing up.

Most of his work has been on special teams. Steelers ST coach Danny Smith talked to ESPN about Ventrone:

“He’s a productive player and he’s always ready,” Steelers special-teams coach Danny Smith said. “That’s the big thing. He obviously understands his role and understands what’s expected of him. He always comes in with a lot of energy. He’s always prepared. I like those traits. That’s why we keep bringing him back.”

One question you might have (and hopefully you will phrase it more tactfully than Wes Welker did) is what kind of guy would persist in the face of not just continual discouragement but EPIC continual discouragement? Ventrone answers it in a way which demonstrates that he is the prototype for a glass-half-full person:

“I know everybody always puts a negative spin on it and says, ‘How do you not get frustrated?’ But I look at it as a positive thing: ‘Hey, somebody still wants me around,'” Ventrone said. “I mean, this league is so difficult. It’s the best in the world. The percentages of who makes it are so small. So I look at it like, ‘Hey, I have another shot at this. Somebody needs something that they think I can give them.’ I bring my hard hat every day.”

2016 is another one of those chances. But the first problem is that Ventrone can’t do anything about being 5’8″:

“I was always the smallest guy, so I only played one year of high school football,” said Ventrone, who now measures in at 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds. “My freshman and sophomore year of high school, I wrestled at 103 pounds. My junior year, I wrestled at 119. Even my senior year, the first year I played football in high school, I was 5-foot-2 and still wrestling at 135 pounds. But I just loved football once I got out there. I grew up watching the Steelers, watching my brother play, so I’d been around football my whole life.”

As you probably have surmised, he makes up for it with hard work. An article which appeared in the Tribune-Review in 2013 quotes his older brother, Ray, who was playing for the Browns at the time and is now an assistant coach in New England:

“I don’t know anyone I’ve met or seen in football, or life in general, who works as hard.”

That’s quite a commendation coming from an older brother who also told the interviewer that Ross “tortures” him. Ray also says a movie should be made about his baby brother’s unlikely path to the NFL. Ross persuaded Pitt to take him as a walk-on, and made  a “highlight reel” from the one game he played in his two years there—the spring game. He sent the highlights to Villanova, who strangely enough offered him a scholarship on the strength of it. That’s some major persistence right there. It paid off for Villanova, as Ventrone was an important part of the 2009 FCS championship team.

And in the end he persists because of love:

“If I didn’t have a deep-rooted passion for the game, I don’t think I’d be able to do what I’ve done. … But I love to play. I do. I love my hometown. I love the Steelers organization. I love being on a team of brothers and doing something to help the team win.”

Welcome back to the Steelers, Mr. Ventrone. The sentiment is genuine even if the wishes are rather belated. I look forward to seeing you at training camp and hope this is your breakout year. We need safeties, for one thing, and I’m personally fond of lots of hair sprouting out from under a helmet. And there’s this:

I feel quite certain Ventrone will be busy in the video room during the playoffs. May I suggest the opening of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” for a background track?

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