It has got to be mentally tough to be a player like Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ross Ventrone—or more specifically, to be a player in his position, chronically on the bubble, never knowing if he is going to be the 53rd man or the 54th man, the last man on the roster or the first man off it.
The 29-year-old Ventrone knows what both sides are like, having spent a total of 23 games on the 53-man roster since 2011, including 15 games with the Steelers over the course of the past two years, during which he has been frequently on and off the team as much as anybody in recent memory.
The whole story takes on a more significant role this season, because he no longer has practice squad eligibility—and that is a big deal, considering that he spent time on not just Pittsburgh’s practice squad last season, but also New England’s, where his brother is a special teams coach.
Under the recent tweaks to the rules pertaining to the practice squad that also included its expansion from eight players to 10, there was also stipulated that up to two players with no more than two seasons of accrued experience could be placed on the practice squad. Ventrone had accrued seasons in 2011 and in 2014, and so was eligible to serve on the Patriots’ practice squad after he was released from the Steelers, and then was later brought back after he was, again, released by New England.
Of course, things might have gone differently if he had stayed healthy last year. He made the initial 53-man roster as the team’s fifth safety, which is what he hopes to duplicate this season, but he was released after four games due in large part to the fact that he suffered a hamstring injury at the time, and the Steelers needed a roster spot available to activate Martavis Bryant—one could also make the argument that he would not have made the initial 53-man roster had Bryant not been suspended, but I don’t know that that would have been true.
After spending much of the year on New England’s practice squad, he was released in mid-November, and was unemployed in the NFL until late December, when the Steelers re-signed him to the practice squad following the promotion of L.J. Fort, who took Roosevelt Nix’s place on the 53-man roster. A few days later, he was activated from the 53-man roster after Jacoby Jones was released.
He has been back in the Steelers’ organization since, which includes the regular season finale and the team’s two post-season games, active for each of those three games, recording a tackle in the Wildcard round. He recorded three tackles during the regular season in addition to downing multiple punts and inducing fair catches.
The future of Mr Roster Bubble himself is very much up in the air this year—it is unclear if the Steelers will have enough resources to carry a fifth safety who is exclusively a special teams contributor. But he seems to always find a way back anyway.