After bouncing between the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins his first three seasons in the league, defensive end/linebacker Rob Ninkovich found a home with the New England Patriots in 2009. Primarily used on special teams in 2009, Ninkovich's role on defense has expanded to where he has started 26 of 32 games over the last two seasons, totaling 136 tackles, 10.5 sacks and four interceptions. Last season, Ninkovich played in over 80 percent of the defensive snaps, playing time that could decline after the Patriots traded up twice in the first round to select pass-rushing defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
Ninkovich is prepared to compete for playing time and help the rookies adjust to the NFL, Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe reports.
"It really doesn't hurt me at all. I've been through a lot in my NFL career, so it really doesn't affect me as far as guys coming in," Ninkovich said. "I look at it as a plus that the team is going to be better. If you have any type of injury or something, you have guys coming in and we're all good, we're all fresh and all talented. So it helps the team out. I'm excited.
"The first year is a long year for rookies, so as much advice as I can give them, it will help them out."
Ninkovich signed a two-year, $4 million contract extension last September that calls for $900,000 base salaries in each of the next two seasons. So even if Jones and Hightower do take snaps away Ninkovich, his affordable salary will keep him on the roster. Ninkovich is coming off a career season, starting all 16 games and totaling 74 tackles and 6.5 sacks before adding 16 tackles and two sacks in the playoffs. The 28-year-old is looking to build off of last season.
"I feel every year is kind of a step to get a little bit better and that also comes with experience," said Ninkovich. "So having last year help me out with a lot of the experience I had and all the game-time plays and situations, it was a good year for me and now I want to build on that and continue to do well out there."