January 18, 2013

Ninkovich can force a turn for the better for Patriots

New England's defensive end can jar the ball loose and recover – sometimes even on the same play.

By HOWARD ULMAN The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Rob Ninkovich
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Rob Ninkovich


Ravens at Patriots

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Sunday

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Samuel realized that during the year he coached defensive ends at Purdue in 2005. Ninkovich had eight sacks, intercepted two passes, forced two fumbles and recovered one. He called Ninkovich "a tweener," bigger than typical outside linebackers and smaller than dominating defensive ends. At 6-feet-2, 250 pounds, Ninkovich is aware of that.

"I think people kind of overlook his ability," McCourty said. "He makes a lot of plays and those turnovers are always key."

One reason he makes them?

"He has good football instincts," safety Steve Gregory said. "He has a knack for the football. Those are some things that sometimes you can't teach. He takes pride in doing that and he does it well."

Ninkovich has been compared to another Patriots outside linebacker who wore No. 50.

Mike Vrabel had no starts in four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, then started 12 games in 2001, the first of his eight seasons with New England. He is now an assistant coach at Ohio State, his alma mater.

"I've never met him," Ninkovich said. "Obviously, being here the last four years you definitely hear stories about how great he was, how smart he was. ... I'm still trying to fill the shoes that he left. They're pretty big."

Ninkovich did catch two passes, both for touchdowns, as a tight end at Purdue. Vrabel had eight receptions, all for touchdowns, playing tight end with the Patriots. But Ninkovich doesn't expect to be sharing time at that position with Aaron Hernandez Sunday.

"I think we have a few good tight ends here," Ninkovich said. "So I'll stick to what I'm doing."


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