At this point in his young career, an up hill battle as an undrafted rookie free agent safety out of Division I-AA Villanova, Raymond Ventrone is one of 20-plus undrafted players looking to catch the eye of the New England coaching staff and earn an extended stay with the two-time defending Super Bowl champions.
From afar, it wouldn't appear to be a great situation for the 5-10, 200-pound safety. But for Ventrone, just being one of the 30 players taking to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for the Patriots four-day mini camp this weekend feels pretty good.
"I plan on staying here," Ventrone said of getting his foot in the door with the Patriots. "That's my plan. That's what I want to do. I want to play here. Even from whenever I started working out, this is where I've wanted to be. I am happy I am here."
Ventrone, who fractured his ankle and missed most of his senior season with the Wildcats, had hoped to hear his name called on draft weekend and actually thought the Patriots might take him with the 255th selection. According to Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick the safety's injury was just one of the factors that led to his going undrafted last weekend.
"I think the level of competition is certainly a consideration," Belichick said. "Injuries are a factor. His overall size. For whatever reason, there just wasn't enough there to represent enough value for him to be drafted. That doesn't mean he's not a good football player, and he was a good football player. So are a lot of the other guys who are here. So is Tom Ashworth. So is Steve Neal. Randall Gay. Those guys were all good players that weren't drafted for whatever reason, again, the perception in the league was that they didn't have enough going for them to be selected."
Ventrone has put all the pre-draft hopes and speculation behind him now and is simply looking forward to his opportunity in New England.
"That doesn't matter now," the Pittsburgh native said. "All that stuff is behind me. I am just moving forward and anxious to try to earn a spot.
"I just feel like if I come out and do my best that's all I can ask of myself. I just want to make the team better. That's all."
That also means the hardworking safety who recorded 251 tackles with two sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in 35 games at Villanova must quickly put the wide-eyed, "I'm in the NFL" feeling behind him and treat every aspect of every minute on the field like it could be his last.
"I think that already passed," Ventrone said of his initial excitable reaction to being in the NFL. "I think the first couple of days after the draft were the 'Wow' time. Now it's like you have to move on, get accustomed to a lot of new things, meet new people, learn the defense and things like that.
A big part of that advancement is doing a good job of improving in all areas of his game. While Ventrone is completely recovered from the ankle injury that cut short his collegiate career, including a return to full speed that he says allowed him to "run under 4.4" in the 40 a few times this spring, he knows he must take every area of his game to the next level over the next few months.
"I am trying to get better everywhere," Ventrone said. "I am pretty good against the run. I am trying to get better in my pass coverage and learn the new techniques we are learning. But this is a lot different than college as far as collision routes down field and stuff because you aren't allowed to do that anymore."
And although he faces long odds in the NFL, just as every other undrafted rookie free agent does, Ventrone is focused on giving everything he has to get the job done.
"I always felt like I was going to get a chance,' Ventrone said. "But I am not worried about that right now. I am worried about working hard and trying to help this team out.
"I am just trying to do everything the right way."