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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.

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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.”

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At this point in offseason, where are Patriots personnel priorities? 04.04.14 at 9:55 pm ET
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Will Smith remains a free agent possibility for the Patriots. (AP)

Will Smith remains a free agent possibility for the Patriots. (AP)

With the offseason now one-third of the way done — and most of free agency now complete — the Patriots still have to address a few specific areas of need as part of the team-building process. Here’s a look at four personnel questions that have to be dealt with between now and the start of training camp.

Backup linebacker: Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher departed as free agents this offseason, with Spikes heading to Buffalo and Fletcher signing with Tampa Bay. Neither were starters, but over the last two seasons, both were called upon to play significant snaps for the Patriots. As a result, New England is a little thin when it comes to their linebacker depth. Currently on the roster, the Patriots have a few possibilities when it comes to backing up the expected starting trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, including Steve Beauharnais, who just finished his rookie season. But their pursuit of veteran free agent Wesley Woodyard was likely a sign they believe they need more help when it comes to depth at the spot.

Strong safety: Steve Gregory was cut loose earlier this offseason, and Adrian Wilson was released on Friday. And while the Patriots did bring back Patrick Chung on Thursday, there’s some uncertainty as to what New England plans on doing at the position. Two things to remember: one, the Patriots like their defensive backs to be versatile, and so shuffling DBs from one spot to another wouldn’t be a surprise. And two, on that same vein, there are some possibilities on the roster, including Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan, the latter of whom has been the subject of much speculation this offseason when it comes to a possible move to free safety. In addition, there’s Tavon Wilson, who slid down the depth chart in 2013 to more of a special teams role, one that’s also occupied by fellow safeties Kanorris Davis and Nate Ebner. (And there’s always the possibility that Gregory could return on a reworked deal — he said this week despite the fact that he was cut by New England, “it would definitely be a place I would love to go back to.”) Regardless of whether or not New England decides to address the position in the draft, right now, it’s shaping up to be one of the more intriguing camp battles this spring and summer.

Situational pass rusher: The Patriots were believed to be at least partially in the mix for Jared Allen in free agency before he signed with the Bears, and while New England does currently have youngsters Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan on the roster as backup defensive ends, it’s a fair dropoff at this point from the starting duo of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. In terms of free agents who could still be on the market, Will Smith remains a possibility, but his recent injury woes leave him questionable at this stage of his career. When it comes to other in-house possibilities, Andre Carter could return for at least part of the season if New England struggles to find help — he sure sounds open to the possibility of returning. In addition, Armond Armstead could also be in the mix as an interior pass rushing presence at some point if he ever does get healthy. It’s also expected that if veteran Tommy Kelly can stay on the field, he’ll offer some support as another interior pass rushing presence in 2014.

Depth at tight end and running back: While New England appears to be set when it comes to starters at the two positions, it could really use some depth at both spots, and both will likely be addressed in some form or fashion come the second and/or third day of the draft. Despite the fact the Patriots might be more inclined to move away from the two-tight end sets they ran over the last few seasons, another tight end to compliment Rob Gronkowski could be had in this draft, especially given the fact that this year appears to be a pretty good one for tight ends. In addition, the fact that the Patriots made a serious play for veteran free agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew could be taken as a sign they feel like they need someone to replace LeGarrette Blount in the backfield.

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Report: Veteran defensive end Will Smith visiting with Patriots 04.01.14 at 2:55 pm ET
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The Patriots are hosting defensive end Will Smith on a free agent visit, according to ESPN.

The 32-year-old veteran, who was cut loose as part of the great New Orleans salary purge of 2014, has 67.5 career sacks, but has struggled over the last few seasons, and is coming off a torn ACL that left him sidelined for the 2013 season.

New England is likely be in the market for a low-cost answer at defensive end/situational pass rusher behind starters Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones — youngsters Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette have been underwhelming to this point in their careers, while 34-year-old veteran Andre Carter is an unrestricted free agent.

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Rob Ninkovich on M&M: Wes Welker pick on Aqib Talib ‘just wasn’t a good play’ 01.20.14 at 1:55 pm ET
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Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich made his weekly appearance with Mut & Merloni on Monday, following Sunday’s loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

“They’re a great offense,” Ninkovich said of the Broncos. “You’ve got to give them credit for the things that they’re able to do. They’ve got a lot of weapons that they’re able to spread around the field, run their pick routes, run the things they do best, get the ball out of their hands fast. They just played better and they deserve to move on. You’ve got to give them credit. You can’t take away anything from the fact that they were a better team on that day.”

Added Ninkovich: “We just didn’t do the things that we needed to do to win the game. I’m not one to make any excuses. Their team played better on that particular day.”

The Patriots weren’t able to mount any pressure on Peyton Manning, but Ninkovich said it has more to do with the quarterback’s quick release than anything else.

“When the ball comes out in a second, you could be unblocked and you’re still not going to get to him,” Ninkovich said. “There’s probably, I could count on my hand the number of times he threw the ball farther than 15 yards. Everything was to the flat, crossing routes, pick routes over the middle. So again, you’re not going to get pressure on him if he’s throwing the ball that quickly.”

Regarding the Wes Welker-Aqib Talib collision, Ninkovich appeared to agree with Bill Belichick‘s analysis that the Broncos receiver crossed the line.

“I really don’t want to get into whatever happened on that play. I think Bill already spoke about it and said how he saw it,” Ninkovich said. “Obviously, you don’t want to see a guy get hurt, especially a key defender.

“It’s a big football field out there. It’s a big enough field where you can avoid somebody. It was a pick play. Obviously it was man coverage and they ran a cross very tightly, and Welker happened to just hit Aqib in the knee, which wasn’t good for him finishing the game, and obviously he got hurt. Anytime that happens it’s never a good thing.”

Ninkovich was hesitant to go as far as Belichick, who called it “one of the worst plays I’ve seen.”

Said Ninkovich: “Bill talked about it, and I don’t really want to weigh [in] on that. It just wasn’t a good play.”

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Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty on M&M: ‘You can’t fool Peyton Manning’ 01.13.14 at 12:48 pm ET
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Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich and defensive back Devin McCourty checked in with Mut & Merloni on WEEI’s Patriots Monday to discuss Saturday’s win over the Colts and the upcoming AFC championship game against the Broncos. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots kept Andrew Luck in check for most of Saturday's win over the Colts. (AP)

Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich could give Colts quarterback Andrew Luck a hand after Saturday’s game was out of reach. (AP)

“This week is going to be huge, this being the third straight AFC championship game we’ve been in,” McCourty said. “Last year was the worst feeling, to lose that game. I think it’s going to be key for all of the guys just to make sure as a team we understand this is a very important game. I know everyone knows that it’s a chance to go to the Super Bowl and all that. But not everyone is going to understand being on the other side of that, that we had to sit on last year. So, we’re going to prepare hard this week and be ready to go. I think it all starts with practice this week, and making sure we’re prepared, especially going against their offense, the top offense in the league this year, broke many records for NFL history. So, we’re going to have to really be ready.”

In Saturday’s game, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck completed 20-of-41 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns, but he had four interceptions. The Patriots also shut down his scrambling, limiting him to one carry for five yards, while sacking him twice.

“Going into the week that was one of our biggest areas of concern, was just him being able to extend a play with his legs — coverage does their job and then he pulls it down for a first down,” Ninkovich said. “When you go against a guy like that — any scrambling quarterback — you have to dial it down as far as your pressure and your rush.”

Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins had a stellar game, including a sack, an interception and solid coverage on Colts tight end Coby Fleener while playing every defensive down.

“Throughout the whole season you see glimpses of him with good athletic ability, coverage, stop the run,” Ninkovich said. “I’m happy that he was able to go out there and just make plays and help the team win. That’s what it’s all about.”

Added McCourty of Collins: “He’s a confident guy. I was so happy because we’ve been able to see that athleticism all year. Now we’re getting towards the end of the season and you get to see him put it all together and come out and have a game like he had Saturday night, I think it’s great. I think he’s going to continue to stay on that page because he’s working hard, he’s understanding the defense a lot more. He knows what he can do on that field, and he’s going out there and doing it.”

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Patriots DE Rob Ninkovich on M&M: ‘We’ve got our work cut out for us’ vs. Andrew Luck, Colts 01.06.14 at 1:08 pm ET
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Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich checked in with Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss the NFL playoffs. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

The Patriots will meet the Colts on Saturday night, after Andrew Luck led Indianapolis back from 28 points down to beat the Chiefs in an opening-round game. Luck showed an ability to gain yards with his feet as well as his arm.

“Luck obviously, his comeback there was pretty good. We’ve got our work cut out for us just to prepare well for those guys,” Ninkovich said. “He’s a good, big quarterback, he can get around the pocket there and scramble a little bit. But he’s definitely looking to throw the ball instead of run.”

Luck has taken huge strides in his second pro season.

“Especially at the quarterback position, confidence is huge. So I think this year he’s definitely more confident,” Ninkovich said. “He’s in control of everything, he’s making more checks this year, definitely controlling what’s going on on the field. With him being able to run around a little bit, he has more control of the offense and check things, check out of a certain look. If we’re showing him a certain thing he’s going to check to another play. I think that that just comes with more experience. This year he’s got the experience from his rookie year, he’s more confident, he’s making a lot of great throws. We have our work cut out for us.”

Some of the games over the weekend were played in frigid temperatures. If that’s the case Saturday night in Foxboro, Ninkovich still won’t wear long sleeves under his jersey.

“I’m never wearing sleeves,” Ninkovich said. “Once you get into the game you don’t really need them anyway. You’re warmed up from running around, and you’re focused on making plays, and you get off to the sideline they’ve got those jet engines on the sideline there shooting out hot air. You’re fine when you’re out there. Everybody gets too into the weather sometimes. It’s just go out there and play.”

Asked if he considers players who wear sleeves to be soft players, Ninkovich said: “I just feel like maybe you can get in their head a little bit easier.”

Professional wrestling legend Hulk Hogan released a video last week in which he paid tribute to Patriots tight end Matt Mulligan and said he was pulling for New England in the playoffs. Mulligan, a longtime fan of Hogan, drew Hogan’s attention because his wife had purchased a replica WWE championship belt as a tribute.

“It’s a pretty sweet belt,” said Ninkovich, who said he was a pro wrestling fan as a kid. “I saw the video. I thought it was pretty funny.”

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