View Full Version : All work, no play for Steelers' practice squad

10-28-2009, 12:40 AM
All work, no play for Steelers' practice squad
By Joe Starkey
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

You never know where you'll spot a member of the Steelers' practice squad on game day, typically the only day of the week he is not with the team.

This past Sunday at Heinz Field, during halftime of the Minnesota game, running back Justin Vincent was standing in line for a hot dog in the press box.

During the season opener against Tennessee, center A.Q. Shipley was sitting in the stands. That was not new for Shipley, a Coraopolis native who starred at Moon High School. But it was the first time he attended a game after practicing with the Steelers all week.

Did he stand up and cheer for big plays?

"A little bit," Shipley said, laughing. "I've been going to Steeler games my whole life. That night was a little different, because you're helping them to get ready for the game, and then you're out there watching them."

Such is life for a practice-squad member: All work, no play.

Not that it's a bad life. The minimum wage is $5,200 a week, which computes to $83,200 for the regular season. The wage remains intact for the playoffs.

"It's definitely better than a regular job," said Steelers fullback Carey Davis, who spent the 2006 season on the practice squad.

Vincent agrees, even his current job hardly matches the excitement of his decorated college career at LSU.

"You could be doing something you don't want to do," Vincent said. "You could wake up grumpy-faced, going to a 9 to 5 (job). I come out here every day and play ball with Willie Parker and Ben Roethlisberger. It's a great experience. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Except, of course, for a spot on the regular roster.

Scouts' honor

NFL practice squads consist of a maximum of eight players who are not part of the 53-man roster. Those eight players always are available to any other team, but that team must put the player on its 53-man roster and keep him there for a minimum of three weeks.

Time spent on a 53-man roster is precious, because a player earns a prorated portion of the NFL's minimum salary of $310,000.

Just like roster players, practice-squad players lift weights, watch film and participate in meetings and practice. They do not travel. Steelers practice-squad players also do not stay in the team hotel downtown the night before home games.

Typically, the eight members of the squad - Shipley, Vincent, tight end Kevin Brock, receiver Tyler Grisham, safety Tuff Harris, defensive tackle Steve McLendon, running back Isaac Redman and linebacker Donovan Woods -- go through the final walk-through Saturday morning and are free to do as they please until reporting back to work Monday.

They are not permitted on the sidelines during games, so some watch from a suite in the press box. Others go home to spend time with family.

It can be frustrating to watch a game, though practice-squad players take solace in having helped prepare the starters. Shipley said he takes 30-35 reps per practice as part of the scout team, which mimics the upcoming opponent's offense.

Vincent and Redman were asked to be Adrian Peterson leading up to the Vikings' game. Woods played the role of ex-Steelers linebacker Larry Foote leading up to the Lions game.

Did that mean he had to trash talk during practice?

"It's no secret that Foote had a mouth on him," Woods said, laughing. "So guys kind of played around with that."

Practice-squad members say they are accepted as part of the team, including as targets and purveyors of locker-room pranks.

"You're one of the guys," Shipley said. "That's how they treat you."

Waiting game

Practice-squad slots are in heavier demand then ever. The demise of the Arena League and NFL Europe has left players with scant professional options outside of the newly formed UFL.

To qualify for the practice squad, players can't have spent more than nine games on a team's active roster the previous season.

Every practice-squad player wants to be the next James Harrison or Rod Smith. Both graduated from the practice squad to NFL stardom -- Harrison as a Steelers linebacker, Smith as a Denver Broncos wide receiver. But if stardom isn't in the cards, a full-time roster spot will do.

"(The practice squad) really is a great opportunity," said NFL agent Ron Del Duca, a South Hills resident. "You always want to be on the varsity, but this is the next-best thing."

Del Duca has represented several clients who advanced from practice squads to productive careers, including long-time NFL defensive end Jay Williams. A current client is former West Virginia linebacker and Gateway High School grad Mortty Ivy, who is on the Carolina Panthers' practice squad.

Del Duca said he often uses interest from another team to help a player get promoted from the practice squad.

"The original team might say, 'We've spent a lot of time with this guy and we'd like keep him,'" Del Duca said. "They might have a fringe guy on their 53-man roster that they'll cut, instead of losing the (practice-squad) guy for nothing."

Practice-squad rosters are in a constant state of flux. So are the players' dreams.

"I started four years in high school and three in college (at Penn State)," Shipley said. "I'm just itching to get on the field."

All it'll take is a break. In the meantime, Shipley will do whatever he has to do, even if it includes watching a few more games from the stands.

Joe Starkey can be reached at jstarkey@tribweb.com or 412-320-7810.

10-28-2009, 01:10 AM
thanks for the read.

10-28-2009, 02:48 AM
Thanks for the read. Most of that was totally new to me. I had no idea that they were isolated from the team on game day. That would be one strong motivator to train harder.

10-28-2009, 03:04 AM
Let see. 83k a year and weekends off. I can watch every Steeler game from the press box and hang out,work out with the team on week days. All I see is an up side to all this.It sure beats what I've done so far this lifetime. SIGN ME UP!!!

Galax Steeler
10-28-2009, 03:32 AM
Let see. 83k a year and weekends off. I can watch every Steeler game from the press box and hang out,work out with the team on week days. All I see is an up side to all this.It sure beats what I've done so far this lifetime. SIGN ME UP!!!

I am with you, I sure could use that kind of money for what they do. Unless they are called to the starting job then that might be a little rough on me.:chuckle:

10-28-2009, 10:32 AM
Great money and gameday perks!!! I'll take that along with the bumps and bruises as well, where do I sign!!!!!?