Ninkovich shifts from OLB to DE for Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP)
When he was an outside linebacker, Rob Ninkovich could spend more time
covering receivers. He even intercepted two passes in two different
He'd prefer to get sacks, and he has a better chance now that the New England Patriots have shifted him to his college position of defensive
Still, he remembers clearly one of those two-interception games, on
Oct. 4, 2010, in Miami when the Patriots beat the Dolphins 41-14.
''Two picks are a game changer, obviously,'' he said before reminding a
questioner of what else he accomplished in that game. ''I think I had
two picks and a sack. So, the more you can do right ... ''
Exactly how coach Bill Belichick feels.
No matter what position appears next to his players' names on the depth
chart, he wants them to do their jobs as well as possible.
''Rob's always played at the end of the line of scrimmage so that's
still where he plays,'' Belichick said. ''Some things he's doing this
year he's done in the past, maybe in different frequencies or
percentages, but he's still fundamentally an end-of-the-line player.''
Playing defensive end, though, reduces Ninkovich's pass coverage
responsibilities. He can focus more on trying to tackle the
quarterback, one of the Patriots' weaknesses last season. His next
chance to do that comes Monday night at home in an exhibition game
against the Philadelphia Eagles.
''Not too much (thinking) in that position,'' he said. ''You've got to
do some things, obviously, but the more things you can do, the more
versatile you are for the team, is just going to help the whole team
Ninkovich didn't help his teams out much in his first three pro seasons.
New Orleans drafted him in 2006 out of Purdue but he played in just
three games as a rookie with two tackles. He was claimed on waivers by
Miami on Sept. 7, 2007, but he got into only four games with the
Dolphins that season. His total tackles? Zero.
He played in one game the following season, again without a tackle,
before going on Miami's practice squad. New Orleans then re-signed him
but he was waived on July 30, 2009, before playing a single down for
That's when the Patriots (No. 2 in the AP Pro32) stepped in, signing
him just three days later, a move that revived his career when he was
shifted to linebacker.
''In college, (defensive end) was my position. That's all I played,''
Ninkovich said. ''My first couple of years in the NFL I was only a
defensive end. I came here and learned how to play outside linebacker.
So I'm just adding to the bag of tricks now.''
In 2009, Ninkovich appeared in 15 games for the Patriots as a backup
and special teams player. His breakthrough came in 2010 when he started
10 of the 16 games he played and had 58 tackles, four sacks, two
interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Last season he started all
16 games with career highs of 62 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks, two
interceptions (one for a touchdown) and two more fumble recoveries. He
also started New England's three postseason games.
The drafting of linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the first round from
Alabama made it easier to switch Ninkovich's position. The starting
linebackers figure to be Hightower, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes.
Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, another first-rounder who has been
impressive in camp, are expected to be the main defensive ends.
The Patriots had just 32 sacks last season. Their ability to reach the
passer took a further hit in the offseason when Mark Anderson signed
with Buffalo and Andre Carter wasn't re-signed. The ends led the
Patriots with 10 sacks each.
Now the team has two other players filling that position.
''Coming into camp, I knew that, obviously, there were going to be some
changes. There's always changes in training camp. I was able to go to a
position I played before,'' Ninkovich said. ''It's a little more `go
get the quarterback, go get the ball' type mentality. So it's fun for
At 6-foot-2, he is shorter than most of the Patriots' recent defensive
ends. But he's confident he can fight off the blocks of 300-pound
''I've always been pretty strong,'' Ninkovich said. ''Tight ends, I've
been able to handle them pretty well (and) tackles. ... I should be all
right. I've been doing it for a long time.
''Especially in that position, it's more about technique and leverage
than it is just brute strength.''