FOXBORO -- Every NFL roster is packing extra muscle this season. In April, the league upped offseason team membership from 80 to 90 players, increasing competition across the board.
The Patriots have 14 defensive linemen and 13 linebackers right now.
That includes an addition of three draft picks, four rookie or first-year free agents, and four veteran free agents to the front seven. First round picks Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones could be called on immediately for pass rush help.
Great. Don't color Rob Ninkovich worried.
"It really doesn't hurt me at all," he said of New England bulking up. "I've been through a lot in my NFL career so it really doesn't affect me as far as guys coming in. I look it as a plus -- the team's going to be better. And if you have any type of injury or something, you have guys coming in who are all good, all fresh, all talented. It helps the team out, so I'm excited.
"The more guys you have, as far as personnel, it's always going to help you as far as options and things you're going to do with defensive scheme."
Ninkovich doesn't generally blow smoke. And he deserves some confidence.
Since arriving in New England as a lukewarm linebacking body in 2009, he's worked his way to be a staple of the Patriots defense.
Games started in Patriots Year One: 0. Games started in Year Three: 16.
Unsurprisingly, Ninkovich remains hungry. He's consistent in saying he's never cared for praise or accolades; it's personal ambition that drives him, that's motivated him to work through injury and practice squad obscurity during the early part of his career.
The plan for 2012 is to continue the steady climb, regardless of how many guys the Patriots brought in to nip at his heels.
He knows how to battle.
"Going into this year I really want to be more overall improved on coverage. Also get more pressure on the quarterback. I feel every year is kind of a step -- get a little bit better, get a little bit better -- and it also comes with experience."
"Last year helped me out with all the experience I had and all the game-time plays and situations things you go through in a whole season. It was a good year for me and now I just want to build on that and continue to do well out there."