With six new faces on defense via the Draft, and a pair of defenders via free agency, Ninkovich has a lot of new faces to get used to in the team's front seven. What role he'll play -- incumbent starter, or role-player -- has yet to be determined. The veteran LB say's the influx of talent won't hurt him.
Rob Ninkovich joined New England Pro Bowl defensive captain Vince Wilfork as the only two Patriots defenders to start all 16 games a year
The seventh-year defensive end/outside linebacker
finished the year with 6.5 sacks (third on the team) and 62 tackles as
well as a pair of interceptions, a forced fumble and two fumble
Clearly he was a key cog on New England's much
maligned defense. He's expected to have a similarly important role in
2012. But thanks to the team using six of its seven draft picks on
defense -- including a pair of first-round picks on front-seven talent
- Ninkovich should have some more youthful help as the unit looks to
improve its production this fall.
"I think that obviously the more guys you have
with personnel it's always going to help you as far as options and
things you are going to do as far as schemes go," Ninkovich said after
a recent workout at Gillette Stadium.
Ninkovich barely seemed to leave the field in
2011. Such extensive reps can take a toll on a player later in the
year. Given the new talent and potential flexibility up front --
although the unit did lose Mark Anderson to free agency and Pro Bowler
Andre Carter remains a free agent while recovering from a torn quad -
New England may have more bodies to rotate through the front in 2012.
"It doesn't hurt me at all. I've been through a
lot in my NFL career. I look at it as a plus, the team's going to be
better," Ninkovich said of all the new faces he's working with. "If you
have any type of injury or something you have guys that are coming in
and we're all good, we're all fresh and we're all talented. It helps
the team out. I'm excited.
The more personnel you have you can kind of roll
through guys and stay fresh. If someone needs to come out and get a
couple sips of water and get a breath and then go back in, you're going
to play better. The personnel we have now I feel like we're going to
have a lot more options as far as rolling guys and trying different
things. Draft day, I was actually excited.
"They're going to help us out and hopefully we can
improve and be a better defense."
Ninkovich also doesn't mind the role he's now
playing as a mentor and leader as the most experienced, veteran player
on the edge of the Patriots defensive front.
"It's a good position to be in," said the guy who
some like to refer to as Vrabel 2.0. "You have those younger guys
coming in, you want to be able to be that older guy that they kind of
go to for questions. This first year for the rookies is a long year, so
as much advice as I can give them it will help them out."
But Ninkovich's first priority is improving his
own game, focusing this summer on getting better in both the pass rush
and pass coverage as he comes off his best NFL campaign.
"It was a good year for me and now I just want to
build on that," Ninkovich concluded.
Join other fans in the Forums: Patriots Talk
For more Patriots news follow us via Twitter:
Or find us on Facebook : Facebook.com/PatriotsInsider