FOXBORO -- As players filed out of the Gillette Stadium media workroom following Rob Ninkovich's retirement press conference, the man of the hour stopped rookie defensive ends Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers for hugs.
As Ninkovich embraced Wise he said, "I'll be here. Just let me know, all right?"
By the sounds of things, though Ninkovich is retiring, he hasn't given up on the idea of hanging around the Patriots to help younger edge-defenders and linebackers.
"There’s certainly a degree of sadness in the way that we’ll miss him," Bill Belichick said in his opening remarks at Ninkovich's presser, "although he’ll be around and be part of the team."
Ninkovich acknowledged that he was hoping to return to the occasional practice to work with players one-on-one. He still has a passion for the game, particularly in a teaching role. He's spoken openly about his desire to pass on lessons he learned as a young player, and his younger teammates say they have already reaped the benefits even in a short period of time with the 33-year-old.
"He's been tremendous, man," Wise said. "Ever since my first day here, he's been talking to me about little things, whether it was about recovery, the ice tub after practice, stretching, how to do weight room stuff. He's kinda been like an older brother in a sense in the locker room.
"His presence is great. On the field, he'll tell me small things, how to turn my hands to get more extension, little small steps when I'm going down the line instead of big, long steps. He's been great. Everything he's taught me I will remember."
"Rob, he helps me out. He's a teacher," Rivers said last week. "He's a helper. He loves to help and serve younger guys . . . Rob always, as soon as he's done with his rep, he comes around and talks to us when we're not taking one."
Wise and Rivers make up a portion of what is now one of the youngest position groups on the team. The longest-tenured Patriots on the edge are Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom, both of whom are in their third seasons with the team. Newcomer Kony Ealy will compete for time as well, and linebackers Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin all have experience coming off of the edge. Grissom has taken the majority of the reps opposite Flowers as one half of the team's top edge pairing.
"I'm really excited to see these guys this year," Ninkovich said. "I think this group is a really young, really athletic, really talented group. And the Patriots organization, it's like a freight train. It's rolling and it doesn't stop. It's going to keep going. This team, the way they prepare, the way they practice, we see it every day, how hard they work. And that's the separation in this league is the preparation and the time they put in, how hard they work. and that's what helps make us successful.
"These young guys, I think they have a bright future and I'm not going anywhere so I'm going to help those guys out. They're like my brothers so I'm going to do the best that I can even though I can't go out there and play. But I'm going to help them as much as I can, give them anything that I know with the knowledge that I have."
Don't expect Ninkovich to be donning Patriots sweats and spending late nights at the team facility away from his family this season. That doesn't seem to be in the cards. But what he has in mind sounds like more of an occasional consulting role. He kicked around the idea of teaching high school and college players at some point on a podcast with The MMQB's Albert Breer, but don't expect to see him grinding like a typical NFL assistant.
"That would seem to me like he wouldn't go into coaching right away, but it is a very interesting transition when you leave the game," said Ninkovich's former teammate and friend Matt Light. "I'm sure that he's gonna wrestle with the idea of a lot of different things and what he wants to do.
"Football would be an easy thing for him to do if he wanted to do it, just because he has a mature love for the game, and he's the kind of guy who enjoys coaching. He was a coach when he played with the guys around him, just being a great sounding board for those guys. Whatever Rob does he's gonna be great at it, and he's gonna have fun doing it. And I'm sure he'll get into a medley of things."
Whether Ninkovich is spending time with his family, traveling or doing some media work with his free time, it sounds like football -- and time with young Patriots pass-rushers in particular -- will make up some portion of the equation. He knows he has a lot to offer.
"Just maybe a tackle set or the way the guard's eyes are on a tackle," Ninkovich said, "or the tight end depth, the back set, what's the formation, all those things that you have to learn becomes kind of second nature. The quicker you can kind of anticipate plays, just by looking at what the offense is giving you, you're going to be better off to succeed in that particular play. I'm definitely going to help out and do the best that I can with the guys that are here."