With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp for the 2015 season now in swing, it’s time to get down to the business of football. The time for “football in shorts” or “football-like” events is over as teams all around the league embark on their own personal journey for the upcoming season.
Although for just about every team the time leading up to the regular season and reflect a period of optimism, it’s also a period of great uncertainty, which means that there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we know who or what a team truly is. It’s a process that can last well into the regular season.
Unfortunately, practice yesterday brought us a new question that we must now ask, following a lower leg injury suffered by safety Ross Ventrone. While the severity of the injury is uncertain, he was carted off the practice field and was reportedly in a walking boot after practice.
Even with the release of Jordan Dangerfield on the eve of training camp, the Steelers still have nine safeties on the roster, and it’s exceedingly unlikely that they repeat the phenomenon of carrying six on the 53-man roster, as they did mid-season last year. Especially not after the retirement of Troy Polamalu.
Every day that Ventrone spends in that boot erodes his chances of making the 53-man roster out of camp, especially so considering he has throughout his career been exclusively a special teams player. That is what lost him the chance for a roster spot in 2013, and what gave him an opportunity to make the practice squad in 2014.
The Steelers signed Ventrone to a Reserve/Future contract in 2013, but when he made a pair of errors on special teams during the preseason, he shot down any chance he had of making the roster. But he was brought back again in 2014, and he shined on special teams during the preseason, benefitting from an expanded 10-man practice squad to land a spot as a sixth safety.
After Shamarko Thomas’ first hamstring injury, Ventrone was called up, and he played so well that the coaches couldn’t send him back down after establishing himself as an integral part of the special teams units.
So far this training camp, Ventrone was running as the second-team safety next to Robert Golden, but this is only because Will Allen has been held out of the early practices. While that suggests that he started out fifth on the depth chart—and I had him making my initial 53-man roster as the fifth safety, in the interests of full disclosure—that could easily change with four more safeties behind him if he misses much time.
On the other hand, Ventrone himself did get injured during the regular season last year, resulting in him missing two games. Thomas got back the week after Ventrone was injured, meaning that they could have sent him back down, but they chose not to. Good thing they didn’t, because Thomas suffered another injury in that same game.
Ventrone played in three games prior to that and accumulated five special teams tackles in the process, showcasing his worth. But it’s a new year with new options for special teams players, and extra safeties may be too much of a luxury this year. If he fails to make the roster, he still has practice squad eligibility under the new rules because he has only two accrued seasons.