Jobs in the NFL are at a premium, especially for a player who has spent the bulk of his career on the practice squad. Maybe that's why Ray Ventrone is trying to hold onto his spot on the Patriots by learning as many different jobs as possible.
Jobs in the NFL are at a premium, especially for a player who has spent the bulk of his career on the practice squad.
Maybe that's why Ray Ventrone is trying to hold onto his spot on the Patriots by learning as many different jobs as possible.
A safety by trade, the third-year pro has played primarily on special teams since signing as an undrafted free agent out of Villanova in 2005. That's when he's played at all. Ventrone spent 2005 on the practice squad and 2006 on injured reserve.
Last year, after being cut in the offseason, signed and released by the Jets twice and re-signed for the practice squad by the Pats, Ventrone finally made the active roster in November. That lasted all of one game, before he was released and eventually brought back again in December, seeing action in the regular season finale, AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.
After that emotional roller coaster of a season, it's no surprise that Ventrone isn't taking anything for granted this year. Or that he'd leap at the change to learn a new position to augment his value to the team.
Thus was born a new experiment: Ray Ventrone the wide receiver. The 25-year-old Pittsburgh native donned a white offensive jersey at last week's full-squad sessions, and yesterday's more intimate workouts at the club's passing camp.
"It's exciting, learning a new position," said Ventrone, one of 36 players, mostly rookies and newcomers, who participated yesterday. "There's obviously challenges that come with it, but I'm just trying to make myself as well-rounded a player as I can. Obviously I'm going to hopefully contribute on special teams, and if I can learn another position I guess that makes me more valuable."
Learning it won't be easy with the complex offensive schemes Ventrone is trying to digest.
"It's difficult," said Ventrone. "Obviously, the offense is complicated. So I'm just trying to get better and learn the position, learn my responsibilities because it is brand new to me."
Ventrone has to go back about a decade for the last time he lined up on offense, and the playbook was just a little thinner at Chartiers Valley High School.
"I played receiver my sophomore year in high school," said Ventrone. "And then I did it on scout team here, but I've never been coached on how to do it until this offseason."
Ventrone is getting help from new receivers coach Bill O'Brien and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and he's getting encouragement from the guys throwing him the ball.
"I love playing with Ray. We played a lot together last year in practice," said backup quarterback Matt Gutierrez. "He's a competitor. He's a talented player. And like everyone else, he's out here working hard, trying to improve and help the team out. He's got a lot of athletic ability and a good feel for the game. He's working at it."
Ventrone, listed at 5-foor-10, 200 pounds, does have some athletic gifts. He owns three track and field records from high school with a long jump of 22 feet, 6 inches, a triple jump of 45-1 and a 100-meter time of 10.8 seconds.
He's also got a few good role models to emulate in the Pats' receiving corps, with the likes of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney setting a pretty strong example.
"Just watching those guys has helped," said Ventrone. "They know how to run the routes, they know how to read the defenses and when to run a certain route. So watching Wes and Jabar and Moss has been helpful. And watching films from last year, just trying to pick up the basics."
Ventrone understands the most basic reality of life in the NFL. While there might be 81 names on the Pats' roster today, only 53 will still be around collecting paychecks when the regular season starts in September.
Ventrone will be in a battle to hold onto one of those spots, with even his special-teams niche in jeopardy with the additions of free agent Sam Aiken and fifth-round pick Matthew Slater.
"You can't worry about things like that," said Ventrone. "All you can do is control what you can control, and that's trying to improve and get better every day. If I'm doing that, then hopefully everything will take care of itself."
Douglas Flynn covers the Patriots for the MetroWest Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-626-4405.