Ninkovich the Patriots' unexpected playmaker

Posted Oct. 11, 2010 @ 2:18 a.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

In the Dolphins-Patriots nationally televised "Monday Night Football" game in Week Four, a former long-snapper tormented Dolphins QB Chad Henne. He picked off Henne twice and drove the Miami QB into the ground with a blind-side sack.

That former long-snapper is Patriots OLB Rob Ninkovich.

"I was pretty excited, especially playing against a team that I used to be on," the 26-year-old Ninkovich told PFW about his big game.

Quite the statement for a player the Saints deemed not good enough to be a long-snapper.

"It's been a crazy journey," Ninkovich said. "My NFL story has been a little different."

The Saints drafted Ninkovich as a third defensive end in the fifth round of the 2006 draft, but an ACL injury suffered on opening night made him miss the rest of his rookie season. He had another knee injury the next year before getting released. Ninkovich went to the Dolphins and continued to rehab when Bill Parcells came in. "I was excited about that," Ninkovich said.

Parcells moved the Purdue grad to outside linebacker. After what he called a "decent" camp, Ninkovich then was moved to inside linebacker and put on the practice squad to learn the new position. The Saints claimed Ninkovich later in the season and told him he was just going to be a long-snapper. "I said, 'I'll be a snapper for you.' And that's all I was doing for them," he said.

After being released to make room for a veteran, Ninkovich was signed by New England on Aug. 2, 2009.

"I knew I had to make a big impression in training camp. I needed to turn some heads. It was a great feeling to play on the Patriots and be a part of their 53-man roster," he said.

Ninkovich played in a career-high 15 games last season, recording 23 tackles, two passes defensed and one sack. Coming into 2010 there were question marks at linebacker for the Patriots. They cut Marques Murrell and Derrick Burgess, allowing for Ninkovich, Gary Guyton and rookie Jermaine Cunningham to fill the role.

Through four games, Ninkovich has three starts (he didn't have a single career start heading into the season) with 19 tackles, including a sack and two interceptions.

Few, if anyone, close to the Patriots expected Ninkovich to be a defensive star of any game, yet on a Monday night against the Dolphins in Week Four, he made a name for himself. A fifth-year veteran, he's old compared to the rest of the young defense, but he reminded PFW he is not over the hill by a long stretch.

"I'm young myself, and the best experience you can have is being on the field and actually playing," he said. "The defense is still learning and still trying to improve, but we're having a good time flying around out there."