Ninkovich ready for role as end or 'backer

Ninkovich ready for role as end or 'backer
June 16, 2014, 2:45 pm
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Two weeks ago, Rob Ninkovich did an interview with Sirius XM's "Movin' the Chains" show with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwin in which he described how he may be used as both a defensive end and a SAM linebacker this season, as he has been in the past.

During OTAs, reporters got a glimpse of Ninkovich preparing for all possible roles. During one practice period, he was coming off the edge as a pass rusher. In another he was dropping into coverage and looking to make a play on the ball.

"You know, anything they ask me to do, I’m gonna go out there and play hard and do to the best of my ability," Ninkovich said after Thursday's OTA. "If that’s playing defensive end or being a linebacker, that’s what I’ll do. It helps to have experience doing both."

When Ninkovich became a defensive starter for the Patriots in 2010, it was as a linebacker. For two years, he carved his place as a regular in the second level of the defense.

In the two years since, he's played mostly as an end and recorded 8.0 sacks in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Ninkovich could be moved around this season given the relative lack of depth at the linebacker spot. Opting not to address the position in the draft, the Patriots seem set with its top three 'backers: Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins.

After that, veteran coverage linebacker James Anderson could play a key role. Perhaps Ninkovich works his way into the linebacker rotation as well. If he does, he hopes to be as effective there as he's been at defensive end.

"I think it’s just being as versatile as far as being a defensive end and a linebacker, not having any drop in play," he said. "You know, if I’m a D-end, I’m a great D-end, and if I’m a linebacker, I’m a great linebacker. So just being able to do both at a very high level, that’s kind of what you want to be."

Since Ninkovich has taken plenty of reps at both spots over the course of his career, it might be easier for him to handle responsibilities as a dual threat.

"You just have to flip a switch," he said. "It’s definitely two different positions when you’re going from an attack mode to a coverage mode. So, really, it's just knowing when to be a linebacker and when to be a defensive end, knowing when to change mentally, what your assignments are, and what you have to do. It’s not too tough, you just have to go out there and do it. It just takes a little bit of repetition."

He'll have a chance to get more reps at both spots during minicamp this week from June 17-19.