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Bill Belichick compares Akeem Ayers to Rob Ninkovich 12.10.14 at 12:09 pm ET
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Akeem Ayers has already made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

Akeem Ayers already has made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick delivered a pair of sizable compliments to newcomer Akeem Ayers this week, comparing the linebacker to veteran Rob Ninkovich.

Early in the week on a conference call with the media, Belichick compared Ayers to Ninkovich, saying that Ayers been able to work as an end-of-the-line type who can play both outside linebacker and defensive end type of roles, a job Ninkovich has handled since he first arrived in 2009.

On Wednesday, Belichick added to it. Asked about Ayers’ versatile skill set, the coach praised Ayers’ smarts, versatility and overall skill set, saying he’s got a lot of Ninkovich in his game.

“He played outside linebacker in college and at Tennessee,” Belichick said of Ayers, who has three sacks, 13 tackles and 20 quarterback hurries (both good for fourth on the team) in six games. “He played defensive end in sub situations, which is pretty common for a lot of guys like him, like a Rob Ninkovich-type of guy. But until we actually had him, we didn’t know exactly how that would manifest itself. But he’s smart and he’s had a lot of experience playing on his feet and he’s had a lot of experience playing down.

“He has a good feel for the game. He’s a smart guy and he’s an instinctive player, like Rob — different than Rob, but like Rob. I’d say it’s pretty much about what we thought it would be, but we certainly know a lot more having worked with him on a daily basis the last couple months than what we knew just scouting a guy off of film in Tennessee.”

Read More: Akeem Ayers, Bill Belichick, Rob Ninkovich,
New Patriots defenders contributing right away because of ‘their study and their work ethic’ 11.25.14 at 8:55 pm ET
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Akeem Ayers has already made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

Akeem Ayers has already made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

With long-term injuries to important players on the Patriots defense so far this season — Chandler Jones (out since Week 7), Jerod Mayo (season-ending injured reserve) and Sealver Siliga (short-term injured reserve designated for return) — the Patriots have had a number of players step up to fill the voids.

A few of those players weren’t even with the team at the start of the regular season.

On Oct. 21, linebacker Akeem Ayers and a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft were traded to the Patriots for a sixth-round pick, also in next year’s draft. Ayers played in that Sunday’s game against the Bears and recorded a sack and five tackles. In his four games with the Patriots, Ayers has recorded a sack in three of the four games.

On Oct. 28, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, along with a 2015 sixth-round pick was traded to the Patriots from Tampa Bay for a 2015 fifth-round pick. Casillas played in the Nov. 2 game against the Broncos and recorded three tackles, but has been most known for his contributions on special teams.

A day later, Oct. 29, the Patriots announced they had signed veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch. Branch also played in the Denver game that Sunday, and has been a major contributor in stopping the run.

With all these new players joining the team and learning a new system, it wouldn’t be a surprise for each player to take a few weeks to settle in, but that hasn’t happened — the players have fit in right away. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia says a lot of that has to do with the leaders the Patriots have on defense, and to go along with the work ethics of all three new players.

“Specifically talking about [Casillas and Ayers] I will say those guys work extremely hard,” Patricia said on Tuesday’s conference call. “They are true professionals as far as their ability to study, learn the game, understand what we are doing from the systems standpoint and have matriculated into what we are trying to do defensively fairly quickly from their study and their work ethic. They have really fallen right in line. We have great guys on defense.

“I say this all the time, but I can’€™t stress to you the importance of the leaders that we have on defense — Vince Wilfork and Dont’€™a Hightower and Devin McCourty and [Darrelle] Revis and [Brandon] Browner, the list goes on. The way that these guys approach and attack each week to try to learn the opponent, study their film and prepare themselves to play every week is really a tribute to their professionalism. I think that’€™s something that can’€™t be understated. As a group, these guys work extremely hard to get ready to compete every week. We have a difficult task every week and this week is no different than the next. It’€™s a very huge challenge for us to get ready to handle.”

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Read More: Akeem Ayers, Alan Branch, Jonathan Casillas, matt patricia
Chandler Jones (hip) ruled out again, Akeem Ayers (non-injury) misses practice 11.14.14 at 4:55 pm ET
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Chandler Jones. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Chandler Jones. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Chandler Jones will miss his third straight game Sunday when the Patriots travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts in Sunday night football. Jones, who injured his hip on Oct. 16 against the Jets, hasn’t practiced since suffering the injury.

The team also reported that Akeem Ayers missed practice Friday for a non-injury related matter. He is expected to play Sunday night, per the team’s injury report released Friday afternoon.

Dominique Easley (knee) leads a group of four players who were limited on Friday and are questionable for Sunday night. Easley returned to practice on Thursday after missing Tuesday and Wednesday practices.

Matthew Slater returned to full participation on Friday after being limited on Wednesday and Thursday. He is officially probable for Sunday.

Chandler Jones won’t be the only one in the football family not playing Sunday night. Colts defensive tackle Arthur Jones – Chandler’s brother – has been ruled out with an ankle injury.

Here is Friday’s complete Patriots practice report:

Did not practice

DE Chandler Jones (hip) OUT

Limited participation

DL Dominique Easley (knee) QUESTIONABLE
S Nate Ebner (finger) QUESTIONABLE
OL Cameron Fleming (finger) QUESTIONABLE
OL Ryan Wendell (knee) QUESTIONABLE

Full participation

WR Matthew Slater (shoulder) PROBABLE
QB Tom Brady (ankle) PROBABLE

Read More: Akeem Ayers, chandler jones, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots
Akeem Ayers, Chandler Jones not spotted Friday at Patriots practice at 1:26 pm ET
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Akeem Ayers recorded a sack in his first game as a Patriot against the Bears. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

Akeem Ayers recorded a sack in his first game as a Patriot against the Bears. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

FOXBORO — The Patriots returned to the great outdoors Friday to conclude their field work for the Colts this Sunday night in the controlled environment of Lucas Oil Stadium. But linebacker Akeem Ayers was not spotted on the upper grass fields for the shorts and shells practice. The Patriots had practiced Wednesday and Thursday indoors at the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse to simulate game conditions Sunday.

Ayers has not been on the injury report this week with any health issue. Brandon LaFell missed Tuesday’s practice with a reported case of strep throat before returning on Wednesday. He hasn’t missed any additional practice time this week and was not on the injury report Wednesday or Thursday.

Dominique Easley was again at practice on Friday after missing Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices due to a knee issue. His return Thursday and Friday is a good sign that he could be ready to suit up when the Patriots take on the Colts Sunday night.

The only other player absent Friday was Chandler Jones, who has missed the last month since injuring his hip against the Jets on Oct. 16.

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Read More: Akeem Ayers, Brandon LaFell, chandler jones, Indianapolis Colts
Bill Belichick on Akeem Ayers: ‘He’s done a real good job’ 11.03.14 at 11:10 am ET
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Chicago Bears v New England Patriots

Akeem Ayers has made big impact in just two games with the Patriots. ( Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Patriots linebacker Akeem Ayers had only been a member of the Patriots for just 12 days prior to Sunday’s game against the Broncos, but he looked like it had been years as he played a significant role in the Patriots’ 43-21 drubbing of the Broncos.

Ayers played 77 of a possible 83 defensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus and finished with four tackles and a sack — the only sack of Peyton Manning on the night — a bone-crunching hit in the second quarter.

“He’€™s done a real good job,” Bill Belichick said of Ayers on Monday’s conference call. “He’€™s picked things up quickly. He’€™s a sharp kid. Works hard, very attentive. He really wants things to get things done right and tries to do them and communicates well with the defense.”

The linebacker was traded to the Patriots along with a seventh-round pick from the Titans for a sixth-round pick on Oct. 21.

Ayers was a second-round pick in 2011 and had a good first couple of seasons, but injuries and a fallout with current Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt led to him not being the same player the last couple of seasons.

In his rookie year Ayers totaled 76 tackles and then 104 in his second year, but in 2013 he only had 49. Ayers had offseason knee surgery on both knees and was active for just two of the first seven games for the Titans this season.

Since being traded to the Patriots he has nine tackles in two games and is settling in nicely with the New England defense.

“Akeem played quite a bit his first three years in Tennessee, I think he was somewhere around the 80 percent playtime range,” said Belichick. “He’€™s been on the field a lot, he played a lot of snaps — not so much this year. So, whenever you get a player you don’€™t know — it wasn’€™t like when we brought Deion Branch in from Seattle, it wasn’€™t that kind of situation at all, we didn’€™t really know Akeem — we’€™ve to get him into our system and work with him in practice and so forth.”

Read More: Akeem Ayers, Bill Belichick,
Report: Akeem Ayers fined for kicking Kyle Long in groin 11.01.14 at 9:28 pm ET
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Patriots linebacker Akeem Ayers was fined $8,250 by the league for kicking Chicago offensive lineman Kyle Long in the groin in last Sunday’s Patriots-Bears game, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.

The kick took place at the end of a first-half play where Ayers sacked Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler. At the end of the play, Ayers kicked Long with his left leg while the New England linebacker was on his back. Long then pulled Ayers’ leg, and drew an unnecessary roughness flag for the infraction.

Long was not fined for the incident.

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Read More: Akeem Ayers, Kyle Long,
Dont’a Hightower ‘definitely wants this to be a physical game’ against Broncos at 2:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s about as close to knowing the game plan as your going to get when the Patriots play the Broncos.

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower says if the Patriots are going to have a puncher’s chance Sunday against the high-powered, high-flying offense led by Peyton Manning, then the Patriots have to be physical with the Broncos, starting at the line of scrimmage.

“You definitely want this to be a physical game on our part,” said Hightower, who has assumed a good deal of leadership in the linebacker room since the loss of Jerod Mayo. “They have a lot of big, big receivers and a lot of quick guys. The one thing we can do that we’re going to have to do, and that we’re pretty good at, is being aggressive. [We could be] jamming [because] they have a lot of crosses [routes] so being aggressive and coming down on that. Peyton is going to get those guys the ball, no matter or when, whether they’re double-covered. We’re just going to have to do a real good job on the line of scrimmage and be aggressive with these guys.”

There’s a good reason for that. If Julius and Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders and Jacob Tamme get free releases off the line of scrimmage, they it could be a long day for the Patriots D chasing countless targets all over the field.

“They have a lot of great players,” Hightower said. “Obviously, you can’t double everybody. It’s just more or less about us going out there and executing. Those are great guys. They have a lot of great skill players. Jacob Tamme does a great job when he’s in there, Sanders and both Thomas guys. More or less, it’s just going to be us going out there and just wanting to have it more than they do.”

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Read More: Akeem Ayers, Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos, Dont'a Hightower
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