Flying under the radar below all the Tom Brady hoopla is the fact that New England Patriots edge defender Rob Ninkovich is also returning from a suspension. Ninkovich injured his triceps during the preseason and he has been able to heal during his time away from the team.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Ninkovich should be healthy and ready to roll:
Ninkovich has been a starter on the defensive line since 2010, but he might not have a solid place in the rotation with Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, and Trey Flowers. Instead, the Patriots have asked Ninkovich to learn how to play strongside linebacker, where he’ll still get to rush the quarterback and set the edge against the run, but he’ll have more responsibilities dropping into coverage.
If you want to categorize the defense, the Patriots could really be running a 3-4 defensive front, with Sheard, Malcom Brown, and Alan Branch the defensive linemen, Long and Ninkovich the flexible outside linebackers that sometimes drop into coverage, and Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins the middle linebackers.
Ninkovich will take snaps away from Jonathan Freeny and Shea McClellin.