By Joe scalzo
When cornerback Brandian Ross cleared waivers and was signed to Green Bay’s practice squad on Sept. 12, the Packers’ coaches told him he probably wouldn’t last long.
“They figured that somebody would claim me soon,” Ross said. “I just didn’t know who.”
A week later, he found out.
Ross, who spent his entire rookie season on the Packers’ practice squad last fall, was claimed by the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 19 and made his NFL debut Sunday. Playing exclusively on special teams, Ross made one tackle in the Raiders’ 34-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steeelers.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” said Ross, speaking by phone on Thursday afternoon. “It was different at first because it [his debut] wasn’t at Lambeau [Field], like I thought it would be. But when I was out in pregame with the team and saw the fans, I took it all in.
“Once the ball was placed down, I was focused on the game.”
Ross was on the Packers’ 53-man roster in Week 1 but was placed on waivers when Green Bay linebacker Erik Walden came back from his one-game suspension. When two Oakland cornerbacks got hurt, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, who was the Packers’ director of football operations last year, signed Ross.
“They’ve been pleased with how fast I’ve been able to pick up the playbook,” said Ross, who is learning cornerback and nickelback. “Some guys take longer, but I’ve been able to learn it quickly and get ready to play.”
Moving from Green Bay to Oakland was a bigger challenge. It was more complicated since Ross’ girlfriend and son were planning to move from New Castle, Pa., to Wisconsin when he was picked up by the Raiders.
“It’s been challenging,” said Ross, who turns 23 today. “I was used to the time difference and when I could talk to my family and now I’m just trying to get things situated. I’m learning the playbook, learning the defense, learning where I’m supposed to be going.”
Ross is one of two former Penguins in the NFL. Like Bills wide receiver Donald Jones, he earned a spot after going undrafted. But Ross had the harder road, signing in late July 2011, at the end of the NFL lockout. He showed enough to make the practice squad and, a year later, survived the final cut, but was inactive for Green Bay’s opener against San Francisco.
While he hopes to stick around the league for many years, he admitted it was important to finally play a game.
“Definitely,” he said. “You have to crawl before you can walk. Right now, I’m crawling into it.
“I’ve just got to keep working and my time will come.”
Ross, a Richmond, Va., native, played in every game in his four-year Youngstown State career, starting his final 31 games at cornerback after a brief stint at safety as a sophomore. He was a team captain his senior year when the Penguins went just 3-8 during Eric Wolford’s first season.
Ross is still adjusting to California — particularly the traffic — and, judging by his Twitter account Monday night, he still feels an attachment to his former Packer teammates.
“If you think Golden Tate caught that ball go see the eye doctor today ASAP,” he wrote on Tuesday, responding to the controversial end of the Green Bay-Seattle game.
But, lest you think he’s having too much trouble adjusting, consider the tweet that came right before that: “Thank God for another beautiful day in sunny California and the opportunity to do what I love.”
Ross still makes it back to Youngstown occasionally — he visited practice during his bye week in 2011 and attended one of this summer’s training camp practices — and was happy to see the Penguins break their 11-game losing streak to Northern Iowa last weekend.
“I’m proud of those guys,” he said. “They’re doing a good job.”