Rob Ninkovich has played primarily at outside linebacker in his career, but the 6-2 255 pounder has been seeing some snaps at defensive end for the Patriots in OTAs. Ninkovich is yet another diamond in the rough that the Patriots have unearthed, ranking 10th among all 4-3 outside linebackers last year and totaling 6 sacks, 5 hits, and 28 quarterback pressures as a situational pass rusher.
With Dont’a Hightower coming in, it was unclear where Ninkovich would play in base 4-3 packages as Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Hightower figure to start at the 3 linebacker spots. It’s possible that end might be his spot in their base package. At defensive end, the Patriots have 2 rookies, Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette, as well as veteran Trevor Scott, a career situational player that some feel could have a breakout year this year. Brandon Deaderick, who was played a situational role for the Patriots over the past few years, can also play there in addition to defensive tackle.
The Patriots love rotation, different looks, and using a lot of different specialty type front 7 players. Ninkovich figures to see snaps at both defensive end and outside linebacker, but probably won’t see the 913 snaps he had last season. We’ll have to see how everything shakes out for the Patriots in 2012.