FOXBORO — From the moment he took the number 50 with the Patriots, the comparisons began for Rob Ninkovich .
How does Ninkovich stack up to Mike Vrabel ?
Ninkovich began his career in New England in 2009, the year Vrabel was traded to Kansas City.
Ninkovich was asked Thursday if he’s ever met Vrabel, who is now an assistant coach at his alma mater, Ohio State.
“No, never have, never met him, never talked to him, maybe one day,” Ninkovich said Thursday. “I’m sure he’ll probably give me some crap for taking his number.”
“I mean his whole career, the performance that he’s had his whole career, kind of speaks for itself. So just to even have the comparison, it’s an honor. But you know, different football players. You know obviously there’s … I think he was like four inches taller than me, his arms were way longer, so he has the advantage there.”
Actually two inches, as Vrabel stands 6-foot-4 and Ninkovich 6-2. But Ninkovich has more than stood tall this season with five forced fumbles and four recoveries.
Has Bill Belichick  ever shown Ninkovich any tape of Mike Vrabel?
“Well, growing up, I’m a little bit younger than him so I always watched the Patriots and watched their successful seasons in the past when I wasn’t a part of the team,” Ninkovich said. “So, definitely, still trying to fill the shoes.”
After all the comparisons were only natural. He is a versatile outside linebacker who was converted to an edge pass rusher, who can not only get to the quarterback but also force fumbles and always find a way to jump on a loose ball on the field.
He did it again last Sunday in the final five minutes when the Texans appeared to be on the verge of converting an on-side kick, trailing 38-28. Ninkovich recovers the bouncing ball, crisis averted and Patriots seal the deal, 41-28.
“As a defensive player you’re always thinking that the ball is a key,” Ninkovich said. “You’re looking at the ball on the snap, you’re trying to find the ball in pursuit. When people are around the ball making plays you’re always aware where it’s at. You know if it’s fumbled or if it’s on the ground you have to get on it. Let everyone else decide what’s going on as long as you get the ball, it will all work itself out. As a defensive player, that’s in your mind all the time is being prepared to get on top of it.”
For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots . WEEI-FM 93.7 will broadcast the AFC championship game between the Patriots and Ravens on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.