Relaxed Rules Help Shape Steelers’ 2014 Practice Squad

Slowly but surely, it seems as though the league is ultimately coming around to change and updating some policies and practices that have become obsolete. Speaking strictly of on-field matters rather than disciplinary issues, incorporating a central command center for reviews, for example, was an overdue change.

The NFL’s practice squad rules had been in place for some time before its recent adaptation, and in the process had become a bit antiquated. It at times reached silly limits when a veteran such as Dennis Dixon was still eligible for the practice squad and a second-year player such as Joe Burnett was not.

Under the new rules, not only are two additional players per team permitted to be added to the now 10-man practice squad, it also opens the door for other plays previously ineligible to be included for consideration by allowing for more prior time spent on the practice squad and permitting access to players with an accrued season.

The changes paved the way for more than a dozen players on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster that would have previously been ineligible, though the majority of them, such as David DeCastro, would never be seriously considered in the first place.

As it turned out, one player in particular benefitted greatly by the rule changes for the Steelers, and that is safety Ross Ventrone.

Ventrone had been with the Steelers during the offseason last year, but a misstep or two on special teams ruined his chances of making the roster. And a year ago, he was not eligible for the practice squad because of his previous experience.

Originally an undrafted free agent in 2010, Ventrone earned his keep on special teams, which saw him participate in eight games in 2011, and bounced on and off the practice squad a couple dozen times in the process.

He was solid throughout the preseason this year for the Steelers, however, both on defense and special teams, and put in a very strong performance covering punts in the preseason finale, which no doubt pushed him over the edge and earned him a position on the scout team.

But the bigger change to the practice squad was the addition of two extra spots, and that may have helped determine for the Steelers who earned spots. The additional players provides more opportunity to retain those who are ill-equipped to play now, but could be in the future.

It also makes it more palatable to hang on to a draft pick, even if he hasn’t shown anything, which was the case for Shaquille Richardson.

And although Nick Williams overall played well in his time in the preseason, he is still very raw. The team likes his physical potential, however, so they felt comfortable carrying him on the practice squad in addition to the more technically sound Josh Mauro. Howard Jones, too, is certainly more of a project than is Vic So’oto, who was also eligible for the practice squad, but the former was kept instead.

Wide receiver C.J. Goodwin is certainly a similar case. Brought to the team’s attention by former cornerback Mel Blount, Goodwin is another raw physical specimen.

Goodwin battled too many injuries during training camp to be afforded a serious opportunity to make the roster, but he made it to the last round of cuts, and joined Derek Moye as the eighth and ninth receivers on the team, including Dri Archer.

Without those two extra spots, they may well not have carried a pair each of extra wide receivers and defensive ends, especially given the numbers already on the roster at those positions. But one position of need was offensive tackle, and they filled that spot with Alejandro Villanueva.

Villanueva, a 6’9” captain in the US Army, has served three tours of duty in the military in between attempting to ignite a playing career, spending time on rosters in the offseason or on practice squads previously in 2010 and 2012.

The Philadelphia Eagles carried him on their offseason roster for a few months as a defensive end before cutting him a week ago. The Steelers signed him recently as an offensive lineman, and at his height, you would have to figure he is being brought in to serve as a tackle on the scout team.

He played left tackle, defensive end, and wide receiver with Army after being recruited to play tight end. The relaxed practice squad rules no doubt helped him earn this chance to try to make it as a tackle, considering he will no doubt be a project.

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