Ninkovich working to remain versatile in 11th season


Ninkovich working to remain versatile in 11th season

FOXBORO -- While some Patriots players are using minicamp to learn a new system, there's at least one longtime pupil of coach Bill Belichick who is using this time to learn a new position. 

Well, in actuality, inside linebacker isn't a new position for Rob Ninkovich. He called that spot home as a member of the Dolphins in 2007 and 2008 prior to his arrival to New England. But the Patriots edge defender has been back off the line at inside linebacker during minicamp this week, often dropping into coverage during 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 practice periods.

The veteran going into his 11th season caught the attention of onlookers during one 7-on-7 session Tuesday when he picked off quarterback Tom Brady. 

"I’ve played multiple positions many times in my life," said Ninkovich, whose versatility has allowed him to serve as an emergency long-snapper for the Patriots in the past. "Whatever I’m at, really it’s just to help the team and do whatever I can, and be multiple. I figure that’s one of the strengths of my game is being able to play different positions."

While a talented edge-setter and a consistently productive pass-rusher (he has recorded at least 6.5 sacks in each of the last five seasons), Ninkovich has proven to be adept in coverage at times as well. In 2014, he intercepted Peyton Manning during a regular-season win over the Broncos. In 2012, he picked off Matt Schaub in a Divisional Round win over the Texans. 

By playing more as an inside linebacker during mandatory minicamp -- which, like OTAs, is primarily a passing camp -- Ninkovich is getting a little more experience back-pedaling. It's a bit of a change of pace for a player whose job typically asks him to funnel runs back toward the middle of the field or to tear up the field to pressure opposing quarterbacks. 

"Trying to learn different positions and being flexible," he said. "For me, it's fun to learn different positions and just try to master inside, outside, end of the line -- whatever I need to do."

Ninkovich is the most experienced player on the Patriots defensive line, and on Wednesday he called himself "the elder" of a defensive end group that includes Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers. Should Ninkovich figure into the mix at inside linebacker, he could provide some depth for a group that features Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower and Jonathan Freeny.

Odds are the Patriots are looking to keep Ninkovich sharp at a number of different positions should an emergency situation arise. Whatever the reasoning, he's welcomed the inside linebacker reps during minicamp with open arms.

"In this game," he said, "there are many things that are hard to master so trying to learn a different position is a challenge and I embrace that." 

Report: Slater returning to Patriots

Report: Slater returning to Patriots

Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater has signed a two-year deal to return to the team, according to an ESPN's Mike Reiss.

Slater had made a free-agent visit to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday. The seven-time Pro Bowl special teams ace, who turns 33 in September, has spent the past 10 seasons in a New England. Slater, one of the veteran leaders in the locker room, signed a one-year, $1.8 million contract extension in 2016.

The Patriots traded with the Oakland Raiders for kick returner/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson earlier this week to bolster their special teams.


Report: New catch rule coming to NFL

Report: New catch rule coming to NFL

A new catch rule is coming to the NFL.

So, controversies such as the Jesse James' touchdown reversal in the Steelers' loss to the Patriots in December and the Kelvin Benjamin call in the Bills-Pats game a week later likely would have resulted in upheld TDs under the new rule.

According to the Washington Post, Troy Vincent, the NFL VP of football operations, said competition committee members plan to propose getting rid of portions of the rule related to a receiver going to the ground while making a catch and to slight movement of the football while it’s in the receiver’s hands. Vincent also said the committee also intends to raise the bar by which an on-field ruling of a catch could be overturned via replay review.

That apparently was what was done in Super Bowl 52, when the Eagles' Corey Clement's juggling TD catch was not overturned via replay. 

“We worked backward,” said Vincent told the Post. “We looked at plays and said: Do you want that to be a catch? And then we applied that to the rule.”

The rule modifications could be approved by the competition committee as early Tuesday, the Post reported, and owners will meet next week in Orlando to vote on it. Rule changes must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 franchises. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been pushing for the catch rule to be modified.