Tag Archives: Rob Ninkovich

Patriots Make No More Moves at the Trade Deadline, What About the Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 2, 2017 at 10:52 am ET

With the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo, many people assumed that the Patriots would make another move bolster their edge rushing capability, either using that early 2nd round draft pick which is essentially a late first rounder to trade for an impact player or to use other trade capital to pick up another depth guy who could impact the pass rush.

But as the old saying goes, “It takes two to Tango” and one has to wonder if anyone out there was willing to help Bill Belichick and New England unless getting an exorbitant return.

But now the trading deadline is over and the question remains, what do they do about getting the pass rush up to an acceptable level. While it hasn’t been completely awful, it hasn’t blown anyone away either. The team obviously felt like they were in a good enough position that even with Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard leaving, that they’d be fine. Trey Flowers who came on strong late last season and Rob Ninkovich, the aging but still productive defensive end, gave them a good place to start. They drafted two young kids in top draft choice Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise. They brought in Kony Ealy, from the Carolina Panthers who they hoped would be a productive player from the inside. And they still had linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, all of whom had shown the ability the blitz either off the edge or up the A-gap.

But things haven’t worked out smoothly, Ninkovich retired in training camp, leaving a big hole of experience. Ealy couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to the Patriots system and was released. The light was just beginning to come on a little bit for Rivers during camp when he was injured and placed on IR. McClellin was injured and placed on IR, but with the chance to return later this season. And the worst of all possible scenarios, Hightower, their leader and best player on the front seven, the captain who called the signals and the guy they could least afford to lose was injured against the Falcons and lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. What now?

Forced to Look Within: With a dearth of trading partners, the team now has to fill their needs from players that are already on the roster. Trey Flowers is already playing nearly all of the snaps defensively and asking him to do more is frankly not possible. However, if other players show the ability to step up, it would no doubt boost his productivity.

The team brought over Cassius Marsh from the Seahawks. He was known as primarily as a Special Teams guy there but was a guy, the other members of the defense raved about as an ascending player. He plays with a non-stop motor and is an excellent STs guy but is still learning the defense here. He’s not set the edge consistently and has lost containment on a few occasions. That happens with players that lack consistent playing time. But Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia and DL coach Brendan Daly will work with him on maintaining his edge responsibilities and he will be given plenty of chances to play himself into a bigger role.

Rookie Deatrich Wise and UDFA Adam Butler have both flashed at times. Wise too needs to maintain his edge responsibilities but they’ve both shown upside. Butler has interior pass rush potential. With Hightower down, the team moved Van Noy back to a more comfortable place with him on the outside now. David Harris who had been almost a ghost in the first six weeks of the season is sharing the inside linebacker role with Elandon Roberts.

Van Noy now calls the signals and wears the green dot for the receiving the calls from the sidelines. He can also chip in with pressure off the edge. The good news is that McClellin is back to practice and is eligible to return against the Broncos. He can do a bit of everything. Drop into coverage, rush the quarterback off the edge, and .play inside support in the running game. I foresee him doing more of the first two than the latter.

The much-maligned depth at the linebacking spot is actually looking pretty good once McClellin returns to the field. However, they can’t afford any more injuries there.

But with no trade help forthcoming at the deadline, the Patriots are going to need either one of the above-mentioned players to step up or have another role player take on added responsibility.

They have the week off with the bye and now is the time for the coaches to do some experimenting and possibly moving players around to shift the responsibilities around and see who can possibly step from the shadows to help the pass rush.

Could other Special Teams’ players such as Marquis Flowers or Trevor Reilly step up and play a bigger role? It is a possibility and don’t be surprised if the coaches put them out there to see if they can make the leap into a bigger part of the defense.

But now more than ever, they’ll have to use that Patriots mantra “Next Man Up”  

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

VIDEO: Rob Ninkovich Says Goodbye To Fans

Robert Alvarez
August 3, 2017 at 9:47 pm ET

This past Sunday, New England Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich made his retirement from the NFL official after 11 seasons, nine with the Patriots, that saw him play in six AFC championship games, three Super Bowls, and earning two championship rings.

After an emotional press conference with his teammates and coaches by his side, Ninkovich then turned his attention to his Instagram account where he shared the following goodbye video of himself reminiscing on his career while driving a muscle car to the tune of the song “Time of my Life” from the 1987 classic movie “Dirty Dancing”.

I had the time of my life. #PatsNation

A post shared by Robert Ninkovich (@nink50) on

Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 2.0 – After Week 1 of Camp

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:30 am ET

The New England Patriots will have many difficult decisions to make at the end of training camp this summer. They enter the 2017 season fresh off a Super Bowl win and have re-tooled their roster to an even more dangerous (on paper) group that was victorious in February.

They seem to have more than made up for the players that they’ve lost in free agency and appear poised for another deep playoff run in 2017. Bill Belichick went against the grain once again and traded most of his draft picks in what was considered a very deep draft and came away with a slew of established veterans.

The team only drafted four players in April with two each from the offensive and defensive lines, but even those are with an eye to 2018 as this team appears loaded. First up are the key players lost and then the ones added.

Key Players Lost:
TE Martellus Bennett
DE Jabaal Sheard
DE Chris Long
RB LeGarrette Blount
CB Logan Ryan
LB/ST Barkevious Mingo
WR Michael Floyd
RT Sebastian Vollmer (injured/retired)
Andrew Hawkins (retired during training camp)
*DE Rob Ninkovich
(retired during training camp)

Key Players Added:
LB Dont’a Hightower (re-signed)
DL Alan Branch (re-signed)
S Duron Harmon (re-signed)
FB James Develin (re-signed)
RB/ST Brandon Bolden (re-signed)
CB Stephon Gilmore
DL Kony Ealy
DL Lawrence Guy
WR Brandin Cooks
TE Dwayne Allen
TE James O’Shaughnessy
RB Mike Gillislee
RB Rex Burkhead
WR Andrew Hawkins
LB David Harris

This doesn’t take into account their four draft picks and the UDFAs that they’ve signed thus far. While the inevitable injuries will occur, as its part of the game, the team seems in very good shape to handle whatever gets thrown at them in 2017. Our first attempt at an early roster projection was done on July 1 prior to training camp. We’ll highlight any changes we make from our earlier version.

First up is the offense…

QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Out: None
New England has an embarrassment of riches at the position. They have three QBs that have started and won games for the team. Garoppolo was the guy everyone had being traded this spring but they held on to him … at least for this season. And can we please cease and desist with the “is Jimmy G injury prone?” talk? He has proven he can take over the team in a pinch and he’ll be watched closely this summer to see where his progression is at.

Neither Garoppolo nor Brissett has really shined in the first week of camp. Both have struggled at times and both have thrown a lot of interceptions. Brady has been Brady. The incessant, inane talk of him “falling off a cliff” this year is ridiculous. We’ve been hearing that for 5-6 years. So, keep it up, and one year the writers who spout that stuff off will finally get it right and take victory laps. But for now, he’s as sharp as ever.

RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin

Out: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
I was a big fan of the additions of Burkhead and Gillislee this spring. Now, I’m an even bigger fan of these moves. I love the versatility that Burkhead brings to the table. One issue the offense had a year ago, depending on who was on the field, opponents could tell if the play was run or pass. With him and a healthy Dion Lewis? That has changed.

Burkhead can run the ball between the tackles and in the passing game, will find those sweet spots in the flat when Brady spreads the field. Gillislee has shown that the power running game will look a bit different this year, but may be better. He hits the hole quick and he’s a faster, one-cut runner.

James White hauls in a pass. (SBalestrieri photo)

Foster is still the tough cut here. He’s getting a lot of work with the backups but is a very competent receiver with speed and quickness out of the backfield. Strictly a case of numbers for Brandon Bolden who is a core STs player. Daniels is a great candidate for the practice squad.

TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy

Out: Jacob Hollister, Matt Lengel, Sam Cotton
A healthy Gronkowski is a wonderful thing to behold. He and Allen are locks. The real battle comes down to the number three slot. We originally had O’Shaughnessy beating out Lengel on the basis of his blocking and STs skills. But he’s shown soft hands and the ability to find the open spots on the field.

Hollister is an intriguing case as he’s more of a “move” tight end that can stretch the field. He’s getting a ton of reps with the top STs unit. What does that mean? They want to keep him around and he’s a primary practice squad candidate.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola

Out: Devin Lucien, Austin Carr, Cody Hollister, Tony Washington, K.J. Maye
Brandin Cooks has been everything as advertised. His speed is incredible to watch. Imagine if Tom Brady didn’t have diminishing arm strength (sarcasm). He’s going to be fun to watch in this offense.

Edelman and Hogan seem in mid-season form and the top three are going to be a versatile, dynamic group. Mitchell and Amendola are working with the training staff so they haven’t practiced but there are no worries there.

Carr has been electrifying at times as he’s building a nice chemistry with Jacoby Brissett when working with the backups. He seems to make a big play in every session and the team may have to get creative to keep him around.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4): David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras
Out: Jason King, James Ferentz, Chase Farris

Center David Andrews and guards Mason and Thuney were all starters last year and are locked. It comes down to Ferentz and Karras and so far, I haven’t seen anything to change my earlier call of the 2nd year guy sticking around.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4):  Nate Solder, Antonio Garcia, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming

Out: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Max Rich, Andrew Jelks
The starters and the swing tackle from 2016 (Solder, Cannon, and Fleming) return this season. Garcia isn’t that big but plays with a bit of a mean streak that I like.  McDermott is in a red shirt year and will go to the practice squad.

Next up in the defense.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vince Valentine, Lawrence Guy

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
Alan Branch is on PUP to begin camp but he’s a lock. Brown has been steady but unspectacular as has Valentine. Guy was a nice pickup from Baltimore and projects as an interior guy with New England. Bill Belichick spoke about his versatility and dependability before practice on Tuesday.

EDGE RUSHER (4): Kony Ealy, Trey Flowers, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise,

Out: Geneo Grissom, Caleb Kidder
With Rob Ninkovich’s retirement, this puts Ealy and Flowers firmly in the starters position with the two rookie draft picks Wise and Rivers as the backups. Depth is definitely thinner now. Combined the team lost 26 years of experience at the position.

Deatrich Wise has had a nice start at training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Grissom is getting a ton of reps with the starting unit to see if he can break thru in season #3. He may be kept or the team may opt for another linebacker. Wise has really turned some heads so far in camp. He’s shown good explosion off the ball and the strength to hold up and set the edge. Can he keep it going? We’ll see.

Rivers has struggled a bit with the speed and physicality of the NFL game which isn’t a surprise given he’s a rookie from Division 1AA. I had one fan DM me asking if he was a bust… Really? After five practices? Relax folks, he’s going to be fine.

LINEBACKER (6): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi

Out: Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates, Brooks Ellis
Hightower is on PUP but should be ready soon, he’s been out at practice in sweats, usually a good sign. Harris looks like he’s still a thumper inside and with Roberts gives them good depth in the middle. This will allow the team to move Hightower outside more where he can be more of a disruptor.

Van Noy and McClellin will probably be asked to fill in at times as edge rushers (Hightower as well) so the team may opt for an extra linebacker. Harvey Langi is a good sized, athletic kid who can play inside or outside and even as DE in a pinch but this unit will have to work out some roles during the season.

CORNERBACK (5): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones

Out: Justin Coleman, DJ Killings, William Likely, Kenny Moore, Dwayne Thomas
This has been a fun group to watch. Butler and Gilmore have played as advertised. Jonathan Jones and Eric Rowe have both played well thus far in the slot. This may be a case where they’ll use both depending on matchups.

Stephon Gilmore looks to be a good fit in the Patriots defense.

All of the others have played well. It is strictly a numbers crunch. If they had the slots they would keep them all. Moore has had a great nose for the ball and has made some nice plays so far.

SAFETY (4): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

Out:  David Jones, Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
Richards leap frogs Jones from our earlier projection as he’s played fairly well so far and Jones, who we are really high on, has been working with the training staff on the lower fields thus far.

The top three of Chung, McCourty, and Harmon have been solid. Harmon had an injury scare the other day and missed Tuesday’s practice but it isn’t considered serious.

SPECIAL TEAMS (6): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Brandon King, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner

Out: None
A good solid group who has had a good camp thus far. Allen had a weird sequence of two straight shanked punts on Saturday but that was an anomaly. The Patriots under STs coach Joe Judge have a very solid core group and they should be fine in 2017. Gostkowski is looking for a rebound year and has looked his normally solid self in camp.

They will need a backup long snapper now, something that was always covered by Ninkovich in the case of an injury to Cardona. Slater is still a marvel and has tremendous speed for a guy in his 10th season.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Best Of Social Media: Rob Ninkovich Retires From The NFL

Robert Alvarez
July 31, 2017 at 11:18 pm ET

On Sunday, New England Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich formally announced his retirement from the NFL after 11 professional seasons at age 33.  

Over social media, current and former members of the Patriots took time to honor Ninkovich’s career with photographs and memories of their time together.

you'll be missed on and off the field bubs #classact

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on



In case you missed his press conference, you can check it out in its entirety HERE.

New England: You are forever home. #ThankYou #GoPats

A post shared by Robert Ninkovich (@nink50) on


“Unselfish” Ninkovich Bids an Emotional Adieu to the Patriots

Steve Balestrieri
July 30, 2017 at 6:00 pm ET

In a media workroom packed with family, teammates, coaches, owners and the Patriots media beat writers, Rob Ninkovich retired in an emotional ceremony that celebrated his Patriots career.

It is hard to characterize Ninkovich as anything other than another quintessential Patriots success story during the Bill Belichick reign. Deemed too slow to play linebacker, too small to play defensive end, he was cut four times by a couple of teams before he landed in New England. Coincidentally, he arrived right around the time that Tedy Bruschi retired, something our Ian Logue pointed out on Friday as we discussed his possible retirement.

Ninkovich shared many of the same traits as Bruschi who faced many of the same questions when he came to New England. He put the work in, played on special teams and molded himself into a tremendously, versatile, valuable football player. He was never the most athletic, never the fastest or the flashiest on the field. But at crunch time, there was no one better.

Dec 14, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich (50) sacks Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 41-13. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Ninkovich retires at 33 and after 11 years in the NFL, but the last eight with New England. In his eight seasons with the Patriots Ninkovich produced 46 sacks, 5 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles and 14 fumble recoveries. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story, nearly every one of those stats came at a crucial juncture of the game. Ninkovich epitomized the term “money player” as the bigger the stage, the better he’d play.

Belichick in his remarks, said to Ninkovich directly, “Personally, I can’t thank you enough for your contributions to the team, to the organization,” Belichick said. “I never coached a more unselfish player. It was always about the team, about how Rob helped the team.

“‘What do you need me to do, coach?. … Whatever you need me to do.'”

Belichick spoke about the Patriots scouting Ninkovich in college but he went to New Orleans who had the pick before New England that season. And he said for a guy too slow to be a linebacker and too small to play defensive end, he became an excellent at both thru hard work. And then there’s this: “Knowing you have a good backup long snapper allows you to sleep good at night”, is so Belichick and just speaks of Ninkovich’s versatility.

Belichick in a sign of respect sat on the floor during Ninkovich’s remarks and the entire team was in the media room. Several players fought back tears as he spoke. Robert Kraft made some glowing remarks on Ninkovich and showed a video montage of some of his greatest plays. “I think he has the best beard in franchise history … his beard put those hockey beards to shame,” Kraft said.

Ninkovich thanked many people in his remarks from his high school days to the Krafts but he only got emotional when he directed his remarks at Belichick. “Coach, I gave you everything I had. I hope it was enough. I love this game. Thank you.”

Rob Ninkovich strip sacks Peyton Manning in a game in Foxboro. (SBalestrieri photo)

Ninkovich moves on, one of the smarter guys to play his position for the Patriots. He always knew his assignment and was rarely, if ever, out of position. He goes out on top as a Super Bowl champion. He was a member of three Super Bowl teams with the Patriots winning the last two and in those, he was, as he always was, a valuable, unheralded piece of the puzzle.

He had a reputation as one of the nicer guys on the team. He was accessible win or lose even when there were times he really didn’t want to talk. Last summer, he was banged up. As the media in the locker room crowded around his cubicle, he stiffened, clearly not wanting to talk.

But instead of getting surly or refusing to say anything, he took it stride and made everyone laugh. As Chris Long entered and took a seat in the locker next to his, Ninkovich said, “OMG, it is Chris Long! Hey, guys, Chris Long is here! The media along with Long cracked up. And then he spoke anyway for a few minutes. Just like the professional he is.

The team hoisted their 26th member’s name into their Hall of Fame Saturday with Raymond Clayborn. But if there is a guy who represents the Bill Belichick era like the Tedy Bruschi’s or the Mike Vrabel’s it is Ninkovich. He’s the gritty, smart, versatile underdog who wasn’t a great at any one thing, but very, very good at a number of things. And moreover, he was and always will be a winner. So before he gets out the door, get that man’s measurements, he is a very fitting person for the team’s Hall.

The Patriots lost themselves a tremendous veteran presence on Sunday. Both on and off the field, he represented the team well in his many years with the team. On the colder, business side of things, Belichick has probably already scouted the wire to fill Ninkovich’s spot on the roster. And the guy that they’ll fill his slot with will probably be not highly rated, or someone that other teams don’t think to have a chance in hell at making it in the NFL.

But that player may just have the drive, the desire to not only make a roster spot but excel in the league. Just like so many others here have, given the chance, Rob Ninkovich would approve.

See you in five years Ninko…we’ll recognize you. You’ll be the guy in the red jacket.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 7-30, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-30, & AFC East Notes.

With three days of camp in the books, the Patriots 2017 season is underway. The crowds have been huge at the Gillette practice fields, with the spillover from the crowds being funneled to the walkways of Gillette Stadium that overlook the practice fields. It might be time for Robert Kraft and the team to invest in more rows of bleachers that overlook the practice field on the side closest to the indoor practice bubble.

The current bleachers are stressed to the max every day and there still remains joint practices with the Jaguars upcoming. Those practice sessions are always very well attended and if the first three dates of 2017 are any indication, then they should look into expanding those bleachers farther back and adding extra rows.

Congratulations…It is About Time for Raymond Clayborn:
The Patriots Hall of Fame got its 26th member, and he wore #26 for the team. He’s been well-deserving for a long, long time and on Saturday, that wrong was righted as he was fitted with the red jacket and became a member of the team’s Hall. From the Patriots.com website:

Drafted by the Patriots in the first round (16th overall) out of the University of Texas in 1977, Clayborn eventually became one of the game’s best at the position, earning three Pro Bowl honors (1983, ‘85, and ‘86). A native of Fort Worth, Texas, he went on to set a franchise record with 36 career interceptions, a milestone which fellow Patriots Hall inductee Ty Law tied equaled in 2004. Clayborn also excelled as a kickoff returner during his 13-year Patriots career, something Patriots owner Robert Kraft touched upon during his introductory remarks.

Kraft recalled watching from the stands of what was then called Schaefer Stadium as Clayborn returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his rookie season.

“I can’t believe that was 40 years ago, especially since I still think I’m 35,” the owner joked.

“To the fans who voted for me,” Clayborn said, “I’ve always said Patriots fans are the best fans in the world. Y’all were able to finally able to make this happen. The fourth time was a charm!

“To Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick, boy, I wish I could’ve played for the both of you. I would’ve won at least a couple of championship rings!”

Getting to Know UDFA TE Jacob Hollister:
The Patriots made a splash in free agency by signing twin brothers Cody and Jacob Hollister. Cody was a wide receiver from Arkansas and Jacob was a tight end from Wyoming. Jacob is more of a move tight end than a traditional inline tight end in the Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen mold. He’s a project, a bit raw and needs to work on his blocking skills but as a receiver, he’s a very intriguing player.

TE Jacob Hollister is an intriguing prospect as a “Move” tight end for the Patriots in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

The 6’4, 240-pound TE was signed for a guaranteed $90,000 so it shows the Patriots have hopes that he can make the roster. Wyoming moved him out of the slot, put him in the backfield as well as split out wide. He was a big play producer in 2016, targeted on pass plays of 20-yards or more downfield, he caught seven of eleven attempts for 189 yards.

At the conclusion of Saturday’s practice, we asked if we could sit down with Hollister for a few moments. He’s a very personable young player and here are a few excerpts from our conversation yesterday.

What are your first impressions of your first NFL Training Camp?It’s going great,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn and get better every day and trying to improve on the little things, it is going great and has been a great experience.”

How are things going with the Patriots playbook which has a reputation for being hard to learn? (laughs), “I wouldn’t know about that, it is definitely a lot more than college. But it is a process, I feel like that you just have to pay attention to the details and take it day by day and let the everything play itself out.”

Where he was used as a bit of a deep threat in the Wyoming passing game could he see himself in a similar situation here we followed up with. “Ah yeah, right now I’m just trying to learn the playbook and play the way they want me to. I’m still in the learning phase of things and trying to hit on all the little things.”

We have noticed that you’re getting a lot of reps (with the first unit) on Special Teams. Is this something that you did a lot of in college? No, I didn’t do a lot of it in college at all. They kept me strictly with the offense, especially since I was getting so many reps. But I love playing special teams and look forward to really playing a lot of them here. He added, “it has been really fun, I’ve been working with guys that have been doing that for a while. And again, it is a learning experience.

What are your impressions about the fan turnout here so far: “It is unbelievable. The atmosphere here at training camp is just awesome. This is like a game up in Wyoming. It has been really fun, the fans create this energy that carries over to the entire team. It has been really cool.”

As a rookie, you work with seasoned vets like Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. How have they been as a sounding board to you during your time here thus far? “Oh it couldn’t be any better. Those guys are great. We’ve been picking their brains and asking questions here and there about all the little things. And really just watching them, is what I’ve done a lot of. Watching how they handle situations and approach everything has been a great learning experience.

David Harris Shows Early Signs of Being a Steal:
When the Jets cut loose linebacker David Harris about a month ago, it raised some eyebrows especially among the Jets faithful as he’d always been a stalwart performer in the middle of the defense for a decade, a tremendous teammate and a steady veteran presence as a guy who always answered the bell. But there were also thoughts that he’d lost a step and may not be the player he was before.

While it is still very early in camp, Harris seems to be fitting in seamlessly with New England. The 11-year veteran is admittedly still learning the Patriots defense, but he seems to have some quickness still in his legs and he can still bring the pop in the middle of the defense. He had a couple of hits during Saturday’s session that could be audibly heard all over the field. Ever the consummate pro, Harris was playing down his veteran leadership presence after Thursday’s camp opener.

“They already have leadership here,” Harris said. “I’m just trying to come in and be a piece of the puzzle, that’s all. I’m trying to learn from guys like (Dont’a) Hightower, who plays the position at a high level for a long time and trying to pick their brains because I am kind of late picking up things. So I’m trying to make it as fast as possible and get on the same page.”

Thus far, the pickup of Harris, like that of Cooks looks to be an early steal for the Patriots. With Hightower on PUP, Harris is the veteran taking the starting reps with the defense.

Still No Sign of Ninkovich:
While Hightower and Alan Branch are on PUP, the Patriots have a couple of their established veterans missing. And having Rob Ninkovich a no-show for the first three days of camp while he attends to what the Patriots are calling a “personal matter” just adds levels of intrigue to his situation.

Rumors abound that Ninkovich is contemplating retirement and in speaking with several people that are aware of the situation much more so than we are, it appears to be the case. We’ll just have to wait and see what the valuable and versatile Ninkovich ultimately decides.

However, the Patriots have announced that they’ll hold a press conference today at 12:15 p.m. after practice. Could he be calling it quits? It sounds like it.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Move Lawson Back to DE and He’s Thriving:

The Buffalo Bills drafted Shaq Lawson in the first round last year and in Rex Ryan’s defense, he was playing outside linebacker which was a new position for him. Not surprisingly he struggled with it.

Under new coach Sean McDermott, the Bills are moving to a 4-3 and a slimmed down Lawson is back to DE and loving it. And making like difficult for the offensive linemen.The Bills edge rushers with Lawson and Jerry Hughes with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams inside looks to be a very disruptive group, something that never took off under Rex Ryan’s watch.

Dolphins Linebackers Showing Promise After Dismal 2016:
The Miami Dolphins has a new look defense especially at linebacker in 2017 and so far the results are encouraging. Lawrence Timmons who was brought over from the Pittsburgh Steelers led the way for the defense to dominate in Saturday’s training camp action. Timmons intercepted a pass and then lateraled to CB Bobby McCain for what would have been a touchdown.

Miami’s defense intercepted three passes on Saturday, Kiko Alonso also picked off Ryan Tannehill, who stared down his receiver and Alonso made him pay with his second pick in as many days.

What is still a question mark for Miami was their run defense. Will it be better than the porous unit from a year ago? That is still a question that needs answering but for now, the linebacking unit is showing signs of improvement.

Jets Make History, Hire Their First Female Coach:

The New York Jets hired Collette Smith, 44, as a coaching intern this summer. She’ll learn under the tutelage and assist Defensive Backs coach Dennard Wilson. She attended a few practices last season and coach Todd Bowles was impressed.

“I met Collette over a year ago,” Bowles said Saturday to the New York Post. “She came to a few practices. Just talking to her over the course of time, her football knowledge is outstanding. It’s all male interns so far, and I thought it would be a good idea to bring in a female intern, strictly off of her skillset, not because she’s a female. She’s a hell of a football coach. We got to talking a lot, and she fits in with the guys. We gave her a chance.”

Smith is the third woman to coach in the NFL.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Training Camp Day 3, First Padded Practice, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
July 29, 2017 at 9:00 am ET

The Patriots get back to work here at Gillette Stadium on Saturday morning and now is when the work really starts. The pads come on for the first time today and as Bill Belichick so aptly put yesterday, now is when the evaluation begins.

The team had a pair of shorts and shells practices the first two days of training camp to get things started but the intensity was dialed down a bit. Today, that should change. Here are a couple of things to watch for today as the team ratchets up the tempo and intensity:

Will Rob Ninkovich Show Up? We’ve been hearing the rumors about Ninkovich possibly going to retire and the only official word we’ve heard from the Patriots is that Nink is dealing with a personal issue.

If Ninkovich indeed does decide to call it a career it will be a definite blow to the defense. Although he’s dealt with a suspension and some injuries a year ago which affected his production, Ninkovich remains one of the best Patriots players at crunch time. He’s always been at his best when the games are on the line.

He may have lost a half-step last season but he’s still a stalwart on the defense and a versatile one to boot. He can line up as a defensive end, as a linebacker and even serves as the team’s emergency long snapper in a pinch. We’ll be watching for the players coming out on the field this morning to see if he’s back….If he does retire, it would leave Kony Ealy and Trey Flowers as the probable starters with rookie draft picks Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise with veteran Geneo Grissom.

How will the Power Running Game Look: The Patriots parted ways with LeGarrette Blount this spring and brought in Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee. Those are the two backs that are expected to pick up the slack of Blount’s departure and provide the team the heavy running between the tackles that they’ll need to keep defenses honest in 2017.

James White and Dion Lewis are the primary passing back options along with D.J. Foster and veteran Brandon Bolden who can jump in for the occasional carry but the new players are the ones to watch today.

With the pads coming on today, Burkhead and Gillislee are the guys to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team open in some sort of goal line drill today to set the tone for the day. UDFA rookie Leshun Daniels is a dark horse to make the roster and he is also in that power back role. It will be curious to see how he performs as well.

Can the Young Players Keep up the Pace? We wrote about how Austin Carr had turned heads in the opening days of camp with some nice catches and showing good hands. Of course, Bill Belichick pooh-poohed the entire episode during his Friday presser but the fact remains that Carr didn’t do anything to hurt his chances during the first two days of camp.

Besides Carr, the Hollister twins, Rivers and Deatrich and others in their first Patriots training camp will be guys to watch now that the heat gets turned up.

As Belichick said, the teaching part will continue but now the evaluations begin. He should be making his way to the podium shortly and after that Saturday’s practice will begin.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Ninkovich Absent For Personal Reasons, End of An Era Looming?

Ian Logue
July 27, 2017 at 9:13 pm ET

Thursday saw the absence of veteran linebacker Rob Ninkovich, but it appears whatever kept him off the field wasn’t injury-related.

According to Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard, Ninkovich missed Thursday’s session due to personal reasons, although it’s unclear when he’ll be back on the field.

The 33-year old plays a difficult position and never seemed to quite get going last season after he tore his triceps in training camp in 2016 and then surprisingly found himself suspended for the first four games after testing positive for a banned substance.

Whether or not there should be any concern about Ninkovich playing another season is unknown, but battling offensive tackles week in and week out likely takes a toll.  He wasn’t nearly as effective last year as he had been in previous seasons, and it’s not like the Patriots haven’t been in this position before.

Ninkovich has had an amazing career with the Patriots. (USA TODAY Images)

Ninkovich, who signed with the Patriots as a free agent in August of 2009, may be in the same place as his former teammate, linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who found himself not physically able to play at the standard he held himself to and opted to go out on his own terms.  Ironically enough, Bruschi finally made the decision to hang it up not long after Ninkovich arrived, with Ninkovich joining the club on August 2nd and Bruschi retiring just a few weeks later.

Bruschi’s retirement was an emotional event that marked the end of an era, and it’s hard not to wonder what the future holds for Ninkovich as well.

Ninkovich recently said he was playing on “Bonus Time” and said that his future would work itself out.

“Every year, you’re like, ‘OK, this could be it.’ That’s why I say this is bonus time,” Ninkovich said via the Providence Journal. “I played past 10 years. I originally wanted to play three or four, whatever the pension was. Then I played 10 and 11 and we won another Super Bowl. It’s one of those things, you have to let it work itself out and it always works itself out.”

It’s still a little early to say he’s done, but we’ll just have to see if he’s going to play one more or join Bruschi as another player who could decide to walk away after an incredible career as a Patriot.

Despite Late Arrival, Belichick Not Worried About Newcomer David Harris

Ian Logue
at 8:13 pm ET

David Harris hasn’t had much time to get acclimated to his new team, but that doesn’t seem to be having any effect on the former Jet settling in with his new surroundings.

Harris, who signed just barely a month ago on June 21st with the Patriots, hasn’t had as much time as many of his other teammates to get up to speed in New England’s defense but according to Bill Belichick, that doesn’t seem to be hurting his progress.

Belichick equated the situation to what the Patriots experienced with Rob Ninkovich, who joined the team even later than Harris back in 2009 when he signed on August 2nd as a free agent.  Like Ninkovich, Belichick cited Harris’ experience being an asset at helping him work through it.

“Yeah, it’s a little bit of a challenge, although we’ve had this before,” explained Belichick when asked about it on Thursday. “[It’s] different, but if you remember, I think it was ’09 when we signed [Rob] Ninkovich and guys like that coming right in before training camp. One thing about David, though, he has a lot of experience. He’s, as you said, played a lot of football and been in a lot of different systems.”

“We gave him a lot of information when we signed him that he’s studied over the last three, four weeks. We were able to catch up on some of that in the last couple days and so, I mean, we’ll see. We’ll see how quickly it comes to him or how quickly he’s able to be comfortable with what we’re doing. I think we’ll be alright there, but there’s definitely some work. But he’s put in a lot of work. Coach [Brian] Flores has, as well, and we’re just trying to get him as up to speed as we can at this point.”

Given how they’ve handled other players in addition to Ninkovich in the past, Belichick said that they’ll be able to get him up to speed.

“We’ve been through that before,” said Belichick.  “Even though they’ve been in our system, in this case, we’ll just have to play a little bit of a catchup with him. But, I think we have enough time to get reps on the field, get communication with his teammates, understand the various schemes and adjustments that we make, and we’ll just have to put in some extra work to try to do it.”

“You know, he’s a smart guy, he has a lot of experience and he knows our division, a lot of our opponents pretty well. Not that we’re at that point yet, but when we do get to that point, he’s pretty familiar. You know, we play the same schedule pretty much every year, with the exception of two games that the other division teams play, so I think there’s a lot of things that will come up that will be relevant – not the same, but at least he’ll be able to relate to them.”

As for Harris, the newcomer said on Thursday that New England was where he wanted to be and he immediately jumped at the chance when the Patriots called.

“Just everything — the winning culture, the high standard,” Harris said via NESN when asked about the decision. “This is the place to be if you want to win.”

Patscap Podcast: Do I Care About The Patriots Possibly Going 19-0 This Season?

Russ Goldman
July 19, 2017 at 10:45 am ET

In this episode, Miguel discussed if he cared about a possible 19-0 season for the Patriots. He also updated the current state of the cap for the Pats. Later on, he compared the Patriots 2007 team to this current team heading into Training Camp.