Pats look for an edge with Ninkovich at DE

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Pats look for an edge with Ninkovich at DE

FOXBORO - Major defensive change for the 2012 Patriots was first augured during the draft.

The selection of purebred, upfield pass rusher, Chandler Jones and the subsequent selection of appliance-sized linebacker Dont'a Hightower meant that the personnel would more closely fit the scheme. And Bill Belichick said as much during the draft, noting the front-seven personnel needed tweaking.

Spending first round picks on spots the team traditionally tried to fill with NFL bargain bin castoffs and has-beens meant two things. First, if Jones and Hightower fit, the defense would be simplified. Second, if they worked out, the players who'd manned their spots would be available for different duties.

Which brings us to Rob Ninkovich.

A defensive end at Purdue and in his first three vagabond NFL seasons, when Ninkovich landed in New England, he joined the long line of DEs introduced to life away from the line, standing up and playing outside linebacker.

Nobody could have predicted how well he'd take to it. By 2011, Ninkovich became a true pass rush threat off the edge and a heady playmaker off the line. Vrabelesque? Yeah. A reasonable facsimile.

But the personnel and scheme change to a base 4-3 alignment means Ninkocvivh is SOL at OLB. Now he's back to defensive end. Hand in the dirt, playing (generally) over the tight end on the left side of the defense where most teams like to run.

"Coming into camp I knew that obviously there were going to be some changes theres always change in training camp so I was able to go to a position Ive played before, which is defensive end," said Ninkovich. "Its a little more of 'go get the quarterback, go get the ball' type mentality, so its fun for me.

Since absolutes are not something Bill Belichick embraces, the coach spoke generally about what Ninkovich will be doing in 2012.

"Robs always played at the end of the line of scrimmage so thats still where he plays," Belichick said when asked about the move to defensive end. "Some things hes doing this year hes done in the past, maybe in different frequencies or percentages but hes still fundamentally an end-of-the-line player. I see him as an end-of-the-line player thats the way I would classify him. You can call him whatever you want, it doesnt matter to me."

The geography is less important than the work orders, though, and Ninkovich's are changing a bit.

We know he can rush. He's proven that. How well will he stack and set the edge in the running game? That's a question. Doing it from a two-point stance off the line is different than doing it from a three-point stance where you're an arm's length from the tight end or tackle. Will he get enveloped? Will he get pushed downfield?

"I've always been pretty strong," Ninkovich countered. "Tight ends, I've been able to handle them. Tackles, both of em, at the same time. I should be all right. I've been doing it for a long time, its just something you get your techniqie right, get your hand placement right. In that position it's more about technique and leverage than it is about brute strength."

In each off the past two seasons, Ninkovich has had two picks. He also had a very respectable 10.5 sacks in the two years.

"The more things you can do, the more versatile you are for the team, the more you're gonna help the team out.

"In college, (defensive end) was my position, my first couple of years in the NFL that's the only position I played. I came here and learned how to play outside linebacker. It's something I'm adding to the bag of tricks. If you can play defensive end, if you can play outside linebacker, overall it helps everything."

Wilfork on Body Issue: 'Looking forward to what the locker room's going to say'

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Wilfork on Body Issue: 'Looking forward to what the locker room's going to say'

ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue won't hit newsstands until July 8, but Vince Wilfork gave people a not-so-little preview of what to expect this week.

The former Patriots defensive lineman, who is listed at 325 pounds but said he's weighed as much as 350 pounds, sat down for an interview about his size that landed on ESPN.com on Thursday.

"I just think it's a good idea for people that are bigger-boned," Wilfork said when asked why he posed nude for the Body Issue. "If people can look at me, a guy that's 325-plus, doing an issue like this, I'm pretty sure that they might have a little confidence.

"There will be critics, just like with everything else. I think a lot of people will get a laugh out of it, I'll tell you that. I'm looking forward to what the locker room's going to say. But at the end of the day, I'm perfectly fine with who I am as a person and what I have accomplished. It shows a lot of my personality."

You can read the full interview here, as well as watch a video that shows Wilfork in all his modeling glory.

Brady, Gronkowski make Top 10 of NFL Network's Top 100

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Brady, Gronkowski make Top 10 of NFL Network's Top 100

Ask a football fan in New England, and he or she might tell you that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are the top two players in the NFL. A random NFL player might not be as generous, but on balance, Brady and Gronkowski's peers consider the Patriots stars to be among the top 10 talents in the league. 

The NFL Network announced the final 10 players to be included in their annual Top 100 list, a list voted on by players, and both Brady and Gronkowski made the cut.

The order of the top 10 has been determined, but has not yet been announced. Brady and Gronkowski are in the running for No. 1 alongside Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Luke Kuechly, Cam Newton, Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers and JJ Watt. 

The weekly series, which has counted down Nos. 100-11, will end on Wednesday, July 6 with two, one-hour episodes on NFL Network at 8 and 9 p.m. Highlights of each player will be featured, as will interviews with some of their teammates and competitors. 

"He plays with a chip on his shoulder he’s always had," Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said of Brady, "that really separates him."

Of Rob Gronkowski, Texans corner Charles James II said, "He's a glitch on Madden."

The only other Patriots players included in the Top 100 were Julian Edelman (who came in at No. 87) and Chandler Jones (No. 48). Jones, now a member of the Cardinals, was the only Patriots defender involved. 

Corner Malcolm Butler, linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower and safety Devin McCourty all had an argument to be included but were left off. 

NFL.com contributors Gregg Rosenthal, Chris Wesseling, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ike Taylor put together their own individual Top 100 lists to supplement the one voted on by current players. Rosenthal included Collins (No. 64), McCourty (No. 73) and Butler (No. 99) in addition to Edelman (No. 84). Wesseling included Collins (No. 43), McCourty (No. 88) and Hightower (No. 91), but not Edelman. Jones-Drew included both Edelman (No. 62) and Butler (No. 95). Taylor included only Edelman (No. 89).