Steelers cut Jacoby Jones, promote Ventrone from practice squad
Jacoby Jones' Steelers tenure lasted 56 days. Ross Ventrone's time off the Steelers' active roster lasted slightly longer.
Return specialist Jones was released after practice Friday to make room for special teams specialist Ventrone, a Chartiers Valley alumnus.
Jones had been claimed off waivers from San Diego on Nov. 5 in an attempt to fix a struggling return game headed by Dri Archer (kickoffs) and to keep All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown from returning punts.
Despite a sterling past NFL resume — nine returns for touchdowns over the previous seven seasons — Jones didn't work out in Pittsburgh. He was benched after fumbling the opening kickoff and muffing a punt in the second quarter Dec. 6 against Indianapolis.
Jones hadn't been active for a game since, ceding punt return duties to Brown and kickoff returns primarily to Markus Wheaton.
Jones was cut after the Steelers played at Baltimore in their most recent game. He spent 2012-14 with the Ravens. Jones finished with nine kickoff returns for a 24.4-yard average and six punt returns for a 3.2-yard average. He had three official fumbles but bobbled other balls.
A safety by trade, Ventrone played in 14 games the past two seasons for the Steelers as one of their more versatile special teams players. Ventrone had been cut Oct. 13 but was re-signed to the practice squad Monday when fullback Roosevelt Nix was placed on injured reserve. Nix had played on most of the Steelers' special teams units.
After a week in which injury and illness — as well as veterans' off days — made for a lengthy practice report, every player on the Steelers active roster practiced Friday. All but two — cornerback Doran Grant (groin) and receiver Martavis Bryant (illness) —were listed as probable to play Sunday. Grant and Bryant are questionable.
Safety Mike Mitchell (shoulder) and cornerback Antwon Blake (back) are among those probable, as are Ben Roethlisberger (illness) and James Harrison (illness).
Not as easy as it looked
Some eyes might have rolled when running back DeAngelo Williams referred to the 3-12 Browns as “a deadly team.” After all, Cleveland has lost nine of its past 10, and the Steelers had 459 yards of offense in beating the Browns, 30-9, on Nov. 15.
But a closer examination of that Week 10 meeting shows that Williams is correct in saying that the Steelers on that afternoon “didn't play well situationally” and won because of “a lot of splash plays.”
More than half of the Steelers yards (238) came on eight plays, meaning the Steelers averaged just 4.3 yards on 51 other snaps. The Steelers went 3 for 10 on third downs and averaged just 2.9 yards per rushing attempt.
“Their defense is flying around to the ball making tackles and not giving up much at all,” Williams said.
“They don't have anything to lose, and those teams are the most deadliest because they can take chances.”
Another backup QB
The Browns will start Austin Davis at quarterback Sunday after ruling Johnny Manziel out because of a concussion. It will mark the fifth consecutive game to close the regular season that the Steelers will not face a team's starting quarterback, other than one series from Cincinnati's Andy Dalton. It's the second time they'll face a quarterback who was, at best, No. 3 on the depth chart.
Davis, in his fourth season, has made nine previous NFL starts — eight for St. Louis last season and Dec. 6 for Cleveland (a 37-3 loss to the Bengals).
“(Davis) is a little more in rhythm and on time than Johnny was,” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “But not quite as elusive.”
This is the sixth time in the past eight years the Steelers have faced the Browns for their season finale. In all six games, the Browns started a backup: Bruce Gradkowski, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Thaddeus Lewis, Jason Campbell and Davis.