Ventrone Bringing It
Here's a name to keep in mind when pondering the 2006 Patriots secondary.
He's not big (5-10, 200 pounds). He doesn't hail from a major college program (Division 1-AA Villanova). Undrafted, he spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad. Still, he managed to make a favorable impression on coach Bill Belichick, who loves the baby-faced safety's intensity.
"Ray brings it every day," Belichick noted in November. "He has a great attitude and he works hard. He's probably been the best practice player of the week a couple of times. We kind of designate that - guys who really excel in giving the team a good look in practice to prepare the guys who are going to play.
"He has a great attitude and can do a lot of different things in terms of helping your team prepare - cover kicks, play defense, fill in on the offensive side of the ball - stuff like that. He's a fun guy to coach. He has a great attitude. He works hard. He'll do anything you ask him to do and do it to the best of his ability."
None of that means Ventrone is assured of a spot on the 53-man roster this season. But the Patriots' defensive backfield, which lost six players to injured reserve in 2005, is not exactly set in stone.
Strong safety Rodney Harrison is attempting a comeback from a severe knee injury. Free safety Eugene Wilson had been a rising star, but he seemed to regress last season without the veteran Harrison playing next to him. The Patriots have re-signed street free agent Artrell Hawkins, a converted cornerback who solidified Harrison's vacated position down the stretch. And they have former draft picks James Sanders (2005) and Guss Scott (2004), plus unsigned free agent Michael Stone, who was plucked off the unemployment line in late September.
Ventrone, who missed most of his senior season with a broken leg and then played only in practice for the Patriots last season, has been assigned to the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe this spring. In a diary he's writing for the team's Web site, Ventrone said he is looking forward to getting some playing time again.
"I know last year we lost some guys in the secondary and I wasn't able to step in because I needed game experience," he wrote. "That's what held me back last year. The coaches were hesitant to activate me because I hadn't had much experience, so that's why I think being over here is really going to help me."
In his first game for Cologne, Ventrone was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit - a call he disputed. "I'm trying to play smart and within the rules of the game," he wrote, "but I am not slowing down ... I can't change the way I play."
Ventrone will return to the team once the NFL Europe season ends. Then he will have a chance to "Bring it" at practice where he can impress those who control his future, the Patriots.