If Tom Brady is the No. 1 player on the Patriots' 53-man roster, then Ross Ventrone is No. 53 — sometimes.
At the moment, he's not even that. He enters Super Bowl XLVI as a member of the team's eight-man practice squad. But he's been up and down between the active roster and the practice squad so much, it would be understandable if the first-year defensive back didn't know if he was coming or going.
That's because he's spent much of the 2011 season literally coming and going.
If you're an avid reader of the NFL's daily transactions, you are likely familiar with the Ventrone name. Re-signed on Aug. 29 after spending much of last season on the team's practice squad, he was subsequently released on Sept. 3. He was then signed to the practice squad on Sept. 5. He was added to the active roster on Sept. 24. On Oct. 1, he was released. Three days later, on Oct. 4, he was signed back to the practice squad. Four days after that, on Oct. 8, he was brought back up to the join the 53 actives. He was released again on Oct. 17, only to be added back to the practice squad on Oct. 19.
On and on it has gone throughout the season. In all, Ventrone's roller-coaster of a roster ride has seen him involved in 21 transactions this season.
And frankly, that's probably the only reason you would be familiar with him, as he largely plays a behind-the-scenes role within the Patriots' organization. But that doesn't mean he hasn't played an important role in helping New England win the AFC East and play their way into the NFL title game.
"He does a great a job," said Patriots special-teams coach Scott O'Brien. "For two years now, he's fulfilled a role not only playing on Sundays, (but) getting us ready to play on Sunday. He's got a lot of flexibility based on what positions he can play and what he can handle mentally. He's done a great job of that. So his value to us has been extremely important and very helpful from the first time he got here. To practice squad, to continuing on practice squad, getting us ready for games to when his number was called and stepping in and helping us play and win on Sundays."
Ventrone has been active for just eight games in 2011. His stat line? Two tackles.
But again, that doesn't represent his value to the team. The 25-year-old Villanova product, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Patriots in 2010, has a heart for football that is 10 times bigger than his 5-8, 190-pound frame.
"I think the key thing with Ross Ventrone is that he loves football," said Patriots defensive backs coach Josh Boyer. "No matter what we've asked him to do — whether it's be a safety on the scout team, be a running back on the scout team, be a defensive end on the scout team, be a receiver on the scout team - he's been more than willing to do all that, and done it well. Done it real well. At the same time, he's been improving as a defensive back. He works very hard at his skill set. I think the bouncing up and down is testament to his character and his love for football."
For Ventrone, the constant yo-yoing back and forth between the practice squad to the active roster to the street and back to the practice squad is just part of his season. It is what it is.
"As a lot of people know in this league, it's like a numbers system, like with positions, different needs, different places," said Ventrone. "They just tell me, 'Ross, this has to happen this week.' After that, I hope for the best. I've been fortunate enough that my transactions have really been like one or two days before they bring me back. I've been fortunate enough that they keep bringing me back. Every time I get that phone call to come back, I get excited about it."
But being at the bottom of the roster, a candidate to be released at any moment, has got to take its toll mentally. Ventrone refutes this assumption. He has to focus on the task at hand.
"Every week I prepare like I'm going to play in the game," said Ventrone. "Regardless of what my role is at the time, or whether I'm on the practice squad or active, I just take it like I'm going to play in the game, because I never know. A lot of time on Saturday I get bumped up. So I always have to be mentally ready for that. Getting bumped back and forth, I'm just honored they keep bringing me back to be part of this organization. I'm just happy to still be here and that they feel that I'm part of the organization to keep having me come back. I just try to stay as positive about it as possible."
So what does the future beyond Sunday hold for Ventrone? Has he proven enough to come back in 2012, perhaps in a more stable role?
"Right now, honestly, I'm just worried about this game," said Ventrone. "I try not to think too far ahead. I love this organization. I love being here. So, I mean, that would ideal. But right now, I'm just thinking about this week."
Spoken like a true Patriot. Bill Belichick would definitely like that answer.
Come Sunday, Ventrone will likely be wearing his No. 35 jersey — sans shoulder pads — and blue jeans. He may not be flying around the field, but this bottom-of-the-roster guy played an important role in this team getting to the game in the first place.