Then-Philadelphia Eagle Alejandro Villanueva warms up before a preseason football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Aug. 21 in Philadelphia. Cut by the Eagles last month, the former Ranger signed with the Steelers' practice squad. (Michael Perez/The Associated Press)
The former Army Ranger who tried to catch on with the Philadelphia Eagles will move a few hundred miles west — and swap sides of the ball.
Alejandro Villanueva, a 2010 U.S. Military Academy graduate who resigned his commission as a captain in May to pursue his NFL dreams, will join the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad — a 10-man developmental unit that works out with the main roster during the week but doesn’t suit up on game day. The team announced the move Sunday.
Villanueva was cut by Philadelphia late last month as the Eagles made their way to the 53-player roster limit. He worked out with the Steelers after his release, and his 6-foot-9 frame made an impression: He was the only practice-squad member to come from outside the Steelers organization, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
After recording six tackles and a sack on the defensive line for the Eagles this preseason, Villanueva will move to the offensive line with his new club. Position switches aren’t new for Villanueva, who came to Army as a defensive lineman, moved to the offensive line, led the team in catches and receiving yards as a wideout his senior season, then played tight end in the East-West Shrine Game, an all-star showcase for college seniors.
After that came the biggest position change of all: An Army career that included three tours of Afghanistan and a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor. Villanueva worked out with the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals while on active duty, but did not sign an NFL deal until May with the Eagles.
He is not the first Bronze Star recipient to wear the Steelers uniform: Running back Rocky Bleier was drafted twice in 1968, first by the Steelers and then by the Army. He earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions in combat with North Vietnamese forces the next year and would go on to pile up four Super Bowl rings before retiring after the 1980 season.