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Rob Ninkovich on long snapping: ‘It’s something that I’ve always worked on’ 09.01.14 at 2:55 pm ET
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Rob Ninkovich could be an option at long-snapper if Danny Aiken doesn't return. (Getty Images)

Rob Ninkovich could be an option at long-snapper if Danny Aiken doesn’t return. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Sometimes the hidden skills of an NFL player are forgotten.

Take Rob Ninkovich. Long before he became one of the better edge rushers in football and a perfect fit in the Patriots defense, he found his way onto an NFL roster through his special teams skills. Namely, Ninkovich perfected his long snapping skills.

With Joliet Junior College and Purdue University and then in the NFL with the Saints and Dolphins, Ninkovich proved his worth by not only rushing the passer but perfecting his long snapping skills, working on punt, extra point and field goal units.

“Snapping? I’ve been doing it for a long time now,” Ninkovich said. “That’s something that I’ve always worked on, constantly worked at and been able to use that, have that in my back pocket whenever there’s an issue [like] if a snapper hurts his hand or something, I can go out there and get the job done. Again, that just comes with doing it [in high school], doing it [in college] and it’s just another one of those things that can help the team.

“You can’t just expect to snap a football and not have done it or practiced it. I work on it all the time. Again [it's about], the more things you can do, and the more things you can help your team out with.”

Ninkovich was spotted before the third preseason game with the Panthers working on his long snapping, though unlike Tom Brady, he did not make a special teams appearance during the preseason.

As Bill Belichick conceded Sunday in a conference call with reporters, Ninkovich could definitely be ‘an option’ for the Patriots as long snapper after the release of Danny Aiken as part of the cuts over the weekend.

“Whatever it is I’m doing, we all have multiple roles,” Ninkovich said. “I’m going to focus in on playing defense. Special teams, I’ve done it in the past. It’s something where if ever there’s opportunity for me to go out there and do it, I could do it. I’ve done it before.”

The Patriots did sign long snapper Charley Hughlett on Monday but that was to the practice squad. So, for right now, the active player on the roster with long snapping experience is Ninkovich.

“I don’t want to get into what I am doing and what I won’t be doing,” Ninkovich said. “Whatever I am doing and whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it to the best of my abilities.

“I’ve been in that position before. It’s one thing about this league, you never know what’s going to happen. I understand the anxiety that comes with that day. You just feel for those guys that weren’t able to stick around because there are a lot of good football players that don’t have a job. You just hope that they get another opportunity and go somewhere else and make the best of it.”

Read More: Charley Hughlett, Danny Aiken, New England Patriots, Rob Ninkovich
Bill Belichick indicates Rob Ninkovich ‘an option’ if Danny Aiken doesn’t return as long snapper 08.31.14 at 12:41 pm ET
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Rob Ninkovich could be an option at long-snapper if Danny Aiken doesn't return. (Getty Images)

Rob Ninkovich could be an option at long-snapper if Danny Aiken doesn’t return. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick loves versatility in his players and Sunday he hinted at using one of his best pass rushers as a long snapper if Danny Aiken doesn’t find his way back onto the Patriots roster.

“I think there are a lot of things that are potentially in transition with the number of spots on our team,” Belichick said Sunday in his conference call with reporters. “I’€™m not saying they will or won’€™t change, I’€™m not sure. We’€™re looking at different options and we’€™ll just do the best we can to put it together in the best way we feel like we can and go from there.

“There are a lot of things that we need to see between now and I’€™d say next Wednesday. We’€™ll just have to see how it all plays out. I wouldn’€™t commit to anything one way or the other on your question and frankly on a number of other positions. We’€™ll just have to see.”

Before the preseason game with the Eagles, Ninkovich was on the field practicing long snaps with Danny Aiken, Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen. He has not performed in a game like Tom Brady did as the holder on an extra point Thursday against the Giants. Would Belichick consider Ninkovich as long snapper at this point?

“He would be an option,” Belichick conceded.

Aiken, picked up before the 2011 season opener after the Bills released him, was cut Saturday as part of the move to mold the 53-man roster for opening day but that roster could still change some in the time leading up to next Sunday in Miami and the 2014 season opener.

Of course, with the trade of Ryan Mallett to the Houston Texans Sunday, this opens up a roster spot for Belichick and the Patriots to bring back Aiken if he clears waivers.

As for another special teams area, Belichick admitted that the role of the kick returner has been diminished somewhat with the number of touchbacks occurring over the course of a game. Josh Boyce and Roy Finch, two players who served that role in the preseason, were cut on Saturday.

“There just aren’€™t as many of them as there were going back a couple years and obviously well before that which also plays into your kickoff coverage unit as well,” Belichick said. “Again, not saying that those aren’€™t important but I’€™d say they’€™re not as important in terms of frequency as they were at other times in this league so I think it’€™s a little bit of consideration. You certainly can’€™t ignore it because you’€™re going to have to cover them and return them. So, it’€™s not like a situation that isn’€™t going to happen but the frequency is lower than what it’€™s been so it’€™s somewhat of a consideration, yeah.”

LeGarrette Blount returned just one kick during the preseason in 2013 before being moved into that role fulltime during the regular season last year.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Danny Aiken, New England Partriots, Rob Ninkovich
Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich benefiting from strong Patriots secondary 08.23.14 at 1:27 am ET
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Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

FOXBORO — Not only can a very good secondary limit what opposing quarterbacks can do against a defense — it also can help the other members of the defense get after the quarterback.

The Patriots finished with three sacks in their 30-7 win over the Panthers, all in the first quarter against starting quarterback Cam Newton – defensive end Chandler Jones had two and outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich had the other.

“œThe first play of the game was definitely a coverage sack,”€ Ninkovich said. “I was just trying to mirror the quarterback and make sure he didn’€™t get out of the pocket. I was just collapsing and collapsing and I was able to get to [the quarterback]. That goes to the secondary.”

The Patriots secondary now has arguably the best cornerback in the game in Darrelle Revis, as well as Pro-Bowl safety Devin McCourty to go along with rising-star corners Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan — as well as the former member of the Seahawks Legion of Boom secondary, cornerback Brandon Browner. (Although it should be noted, he is suspended for the first four games of the season and didn’€™t play until the fourth quarter Friday night).

All those players stepped onto the field together for the first time this preseason and were able to give the entire defense some added energy and boost to their games.

“€œ[We] had a tremendous time. Football is fun,” Jones said. “We’€™re out there in the preseason we get a chance to go against a different team. Whether it is in practice, going against the Redskins or the Eagles. We got an opportunity to go out in our third preseason game and execute and we went out and did a good job.”€

The defense played very well, with the starters playing a little over a half, holding the Carolina offense — which made the postseason last year — to just 94 total yards in the first half.

“It’€™s just working hard throughout camp, and all week, trying to prepare and knowing that we were going against a good team and a good quarterback that was able to scramble around and get out of the pocket,”€ Ninkovich said. “It was a good game all around.”

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Read More: chandler jones, Panthers, Patriots, Rob Ninkovich
Rob Ninkovich on training camp: ‘This is where you set the tone for the season’ 07.23.14 at 12:39 pm ET
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FOXBORO –  Ever since Rob Ninkovich signed with New England prior to the 2009 season, he’s been one of the most consistent players on the Patriots defense. The defensive end has been durable and versatile — a player who can be depended on each and every week.

Ninkovich has been inactive for just one game in his five seasons, and that occurred during his first season. Including the postseason, he has played in 79 straight games.

For an eight-year veteran, training camp might be a tedious few weeks, but not for Ninkovich, who knows it’s the building block for having a successful season.

“You have to go through it to get to the ultimate goal, and that’s having a winning season,” Ninkovich said. “This is the time that you put in — the hard work, it all pays off. Being an older guy, I’ve been through the doubles, all the hard days before. I know what they are like, so I know what to expect. This is where you set the tone for the season.”

With the addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to a team that is coming off an AFC championship game loss last season, expectations are high for this year’s team. This is nothing new for Ninkovich, who has played in nine playoff games in his career.

“I know what the expectations are, but every year there are always high expectations just because we’re on one of the best teams in the NFL,” he said.

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Patriots defense looks to find fix for third-down woes of last few years at 12:24 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For the past few seasons there has been one consistent issue with the Patriots defense — getting off the field on third down.

According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, dating back to the 2010 season there hasn’t been one year in which the Patriots finished higher than 20th in the league in third-down defense. Last year the unit got off the field 42.7 percent of the time, 25th in the league, so on a little more than half of the third-down plays, opponents were successful. 2010 was the worst season of all, as New England allowed opponents a success rate of 47.1 percent, dead last among all 32 defenses in the league.

This is one of the areas in which the defense as a whole knows it needs to get better as preparation for the 2014 season begins with training camp opening on Thursday.

“We have to get off the field, that’s huge,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “Some of the third-and-long situations we weren’t able to get off the field. I know third-and-long screens hurt us, too. Specifically that play and third and long as a whole, we need to do a better job. Obviously everything is working together, so coverage-rush, rush-coverage, everything works together. That’s just one area we definitely need to work on this year.”

A good amount of the conversions have come on screen plays, some even going for long yardage. Stopping the play comes from not just one specific group of players, but the entire defense.

“It’s just different things you can work on,” defensive back Devin McCourty said of how to stop the screen. “I think one of the greatest things here is we have coaches that find any and everything we can do to get better. I think one of the big things is getting to the ball. It’s a play you try and get the linemen up field and guys drop into coverage, so just effort and everything on that simple basis can help improve the screen game.”

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Read More: Devin McCourty, Patriots, Rob Ninkovich,
Rob Ninkovich talks Vince Wilfork, Patrick Chung and rest of Patriots offseason moves 04.08.14 at 4:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Rob Ninkovich talked about the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner on Tuesday morning, but also addressed a handful of other topics, including the return of Vince Wilfork, the loss of coach Pepper Johnson and some of the other offseason moves made to this point by the Patriots:

On the return of Vince Wilfork: I’€™m happy I’€™ll be able to look inside and see him next to me. I’€™m happy that he’€™s still my teammate, and we’€™ll be able to go out there and win some football games.

On the offseason return of Julian Edelman — who Ninkovich referred to as “my guy” — as well as some of the other moves: We’€™ve got some great receivers coming back, and with Tom (Brady), we can pretty much do anything. Offensively, we’€™re looking good. Defensively, just adding a couple pieces, and what we have so far, those guys are tremendous talents. As a defensive end, I’€™m happy to have two great talents that can shut down two receivers at the same time. That’€™s awesome. And we have a great safety. So again, defensively, we’€™ve improved, but we’€™ve got to put in the work. That starts now. That starts in the offseason, because you have the talent, but you’€™ve got to put in the work together to get to that ultimate goal. ‘€¦ We’€™re in this thing to win. Everything that we do is directed toward winning football games. The way things work around here is to give our team the best chance of winning, and with those guys, it gives us a better chance.

On the return of Pat Chung: Pat, obviously, went somewhere else and it didn’€™t work out. Coming back, he’€™s a good football player. He’€™s a good, competitive, talented football player who obviously is going to go out there and play hard. He has experience here, he knows what to expect, and it’€™s good to have him back.

On the offseason workouts to this point: Me and (Jerod) Mayo are in there. He’s a pretty explosive guy, so I try to keep up with (him). He’s looking good right now. I’ve been training with him for a long time, and it’s always good to have somebody to push you and make you better.

On losing Pepper Johnson: Pep obviously, he was a tremendous coach in terms of having that game-time experience. But again, the coaching staff that we have here, they’re pretty good. Having Bill involved with the defense all the time, that’s helpful. Any time I have a question or there’s something going on, I’ll go right to Bill and ask him, ‘€˜Hey we’€™re doing this, we’€™re doing that, give me the stuff that I need to know.’€™ I was with Pep for awhile, and wish him all the best in the future. But that’s part of the business. You always have to adjust to changes. There’s always people leaving — coaches leaving, coaches coming. And that’s the way of type game. You deal with it and the new coach that comes in, you get them up to speed on what we’re doing, and get ready to roll.

On motivation needed to get back to AFC title game: I’€™m very motivated. I need to get back to that game and we have to win it this time. Nobody thinks about the time and effort put in to get to a championship game, and the workouts, the offseason, minicamp, training camps, 16 games you have to get through just to get to the playoffs, and then, getting to that AFC Championship Game, it’s a long road. It’€™s a lot of work, and to get back there I have to do it all over again. I’€™m up for the challenge. I want to get back there.

Read More: Julian Edelman, Pepper Johnson, Rob Ninkovich, Tom Brady
Rob Ninkovich: Darrelle Revis ‘best corner in the league’ at 12:01 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Count defensive end Rob Ninkovich as part of the Darrelle Revis Fan Club.

During a break in offseason workouts Tuesday morning at Gillette Stadium, Ninkovich was eager to sing the praises of Revis, as well as cornerback Brandon Browner.

“We have the best corner in the league coming in. That’s always good thing for a defensive end like myself — give me a little more time. I’ll be happy to use that,” Ninkovich said of Revis. “I’m happy he’s on our team. He’s a great, great football player. The more great football players you have on your team, the better chance you have to win. Again, I’m happy he’s playing for us.

“You can do whatever you want with him. You can put him on the best receiver, tight end, whoever, and just say, ‘Go cover this guy,’ and he can do it. Whenever you have a guy who’s that talented, it’s always great, as far as defensive schemes and stuff like that.”

As for Browner, Ninkovich said he was amazed by the size of the former Seahawks defensive back.

“That guy is bigger than me,” the 6-foot-3, 251-pound Ninkovich said of the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Browner. “When I first met him, I didn’t know he was a corner. Again, he’s big, physical guy. He’s tall and long. He’s another guy who is a piece you can put on the field anywhere to go cover a guy and shut them down. That’s another great addition we have to our secondary.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis, Rob Ninkovich,
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