Belichick raves about Ninkovich's leadership, unselfishness

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Belichick raves about Ninkovich's leadership, unselfishness

FOXBORO -- There have been a slew of important football players to come through New England and Bill Belichick’s program doing back to 2000, but very few get the star treatment when the end comes. That’s been reserved for the likes of the “Perfect Patriot” Tedy Bruschi, Matt Light, Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown and Doug Flutie. Rob Ninkovich joined that select crew Sunday, with the team holding a press conference in front of the media, ownership and just about every coach and player on the current roster. Unique. At times moving, and left no doubt how much the 33-year old impacted his usually irritable head coach.

“Personally, [I] just can’t thank you enough for your contributions to the team [and] to the organization. I haven’t had a – never coached a more unselfish player and I’ve coached a lot of them but you go right up in there in that top echelon group. It was always about the team. It was always about how Rob could help somebody else. ‘What do you need me to do, coach? Do you need me to play here, play there, do something else? I can do this. I’ll snap, I’ll cover kicks, I’ll play linebacker, I’ll rush, I’ll cover. Whatever you need me to do.’

As only he can do, Belichick detailed when the relationship began, back when the Pats prepared for the 2006 draft and they looked at - and bypassed - the Purdue standout.

“He was a little bit of a ‘Was he a linebacker? Was he a defensive end?’ Well it turned out he was both and we missed him the first time around but we finally got it right.” 

After injuries in New Orleans and a 1-15 Dolphins team that didn’t think highly enough of Ninkovich to keep him, this “tweener” ended up back on the Pats radar in 2009. Thank goodness for that.

“We’re sitting there in training camp in 2009 lacking a little depth at the outside linebacker position. Nick [Caserio] said ‘There’s a guy, Rob, he should be on a roster, he should be in a camp and he’s available so let’s get him.’ Really, it’s just history after that. Rob came in and did a great job for us in the kicking game, started playing on defense the following year in 2010, was a regular player for us. [He] had the big game Monday night against Miami – two interceptions, fumble, made a very athletic play, made a great interception and we saw his coverage skill. It kind of just went on from there. Just year after year of production – sacks, forced fumbles, recovered fumbles.”

The encyclopedic Belichick rattled off more numbers - 24 fumbles forced and recovered by the steady Ninkovich - and five interceptions.

“I mean we just go on and on and on,” he said “I mean there are so many big plays he made through the course of his career.”

Impressive for a player who truly had to earn everything he got and then worked his ass off to keep it. That, in Belichick’s mind, put him in another notable group. 

“Like a lot of guys, he came in here very unheralded; [Tom] Brady, Malcolm Butler, guys like that and the guy he replaced, No. 50 Mike Vrabel. [He] didn’t come in with a lot of fanfare but just came in and worked hard and became a very, very versatile player for us. He played defensive end, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, all the kicking game, was our backup snapper…”

“His versatility was really exceptional which is a tribute to his intelligence, his preparation and his overall skill set. Rob’s got very good playing strength. Maybe he got some of that when he was tossing those steel beams around in Chicago with his dad. But [he] worked very hard in the weight room, had very good playing strength, ran well, athletic and, like I said, all day tough and versatile. [He was a] team captain, one of the real leaders of the team. You can see the testament of everybody here what Rob means to all of us and what he’s meant to all of us.”

Belichick then locked eyes with Ninkovich and addressed him personally. 

“You’ve had a tremendous career. You’ve earned every single thing that you’ve gotten. Nobody gave you anything; nobody had worked harder for it. As a coach I’m extremely proud of what you’ve accomplished and you earned every single thing – all those sacks, all those forced fumbles, all those tackles, all those big plays. You got there with hard work and perseverance, dedication, preparation. All the things that we preach for our program, Rob epitomizes. Congratulations on a tremendous career. It’s been an honor to coach you. Thank you for your contributions to the Patriots and to me personally. Thank you.”

In that moment, Belichick spoke not only for himself, but for every Patriot in that room. It was a fitting end to one hell of a run.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is Rob Gronkowski good to go?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is Rob Gronkowski good to go?

00:43 - Rob Gronkowski says he's ready to go against the Texans. Michael Holley, Tom Giles and Kayce Smith talk about this risks of him playing while injured.

05:47 - Phil A.Perry follows up the Gronk discussion with a deeper breakdown of Gronk’s decision to play this Sunday.

10:02 - David Price appears to be easing back into baseball after pitching Friday night. Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Price’s outing in Cincinnati. 

16:12 - The BST crew recaps the Red Sox win over Reds. Drellich returns to analyze how the pitchers performed and how that will impact the Red Sox postseason stretch.  

Danny Amendola embraces delayed follow-up to strong Week 1 performance

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Danny Amendola embraces delayed follow-up to strong Week 1 performance

This actually won’t be the first time that Danny Amendola had to wait to follow up a strong season-opener with the Pats. 

As the veteran receiver aims to return Sunday from a concussion and knee injury after leaving the Pats’ Week 1 loss early and missing Week 2 altogether, he’ll try to build a Week 1 performance that saw him lead the Pats with 100 yards on six receptions. 

The stop and start is somewhat reminiscent of Amendola’s first year with New England in 2013, when he had 10 receptions for 104 yards in the season-opener. He suffered a groin injury in that game, however, and didn’t play again until Week 5. At least the wait is shorter this time around. 

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“I mean, there’s going to be bumps and bruises along the way, but that’s football, right?” Amendola said Friday. “But I feel really good today, feel strong, so get ready tomorrow and just continue to prepare.”

In that first game back in 2013, Amendola again led the Pats in receiving yards, but it was in a terrible offensive showing for New England. All it took was four receptions for 55 yards to be the Patriots’ best receiver in a 13-6 loss to Cincinnati in which Tom Brady had a rare scoreless game. 

If Amendola can pick up where he left off in Week 1, the Pats will be in good shape. They’re also expected to have Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan ready to go, but Amendola was Tom Brady’s most reliable weapon in the Chiefs game, even though Brandin Cooks made a bigger impact with two pass interference penalties drawn in the red zone. 

Not known for his durability towards the end of his time in St. Louis, this will be the fourth of Amendola’s five regular seasons in New England in which he didn’t play in all 16 games. He played the full season in 2014, 14 games in 2015 and 12 games in 2013 and 2016. 

With Julian Edelman out, Brady could certainly use Amendola’s services as often as possible. That’s especially if he plays the way he did in Week 1. 

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