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Rob Ninkovich injury gives golden opportunity for 2nd year DE Trey Flowers to shine

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Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Today's bad news item of the day was starting left end Rob Ninkovich tearing a triceps muscle. The good news about that injury is that Ninkovich will not need season-ending surgery to repair the injury. Over the years, Ninkovich developed a well-deserved reputation of being dependable on the field. The injury will force him out until at least October and makes him a candidate for Injured Reserve with a Designation to Return.

The Patriots are one of the few teams that can weather such an injury. Losing Ninkovich, who I consider as a coach on the field and dependable for his ability to make that one game-changing play a game, sucks for the Patriots and let's not forget that. The Patriots signed former #2 overall pick Chris Long, who is finally healthy after playing two-injury plagued years, and drafted two defensive ends within 5 picks of each other a year ago. In addition they picked up Shea McClellin, a converted edge rusher that moved to inside linebacker last season for the Chicago Bears after struggling as an edge rusher there. McClellin is a candidate to receive playing time in Ninkovich's absence, even though he's listed as a linebacker on the depth chart.

Perhaps the one player who has the most to gain from this is second year defensive end Trey Flowers. Flowers was one of my draft crushes from 2015 because of his length (34 1/2" arms, 84 1/2" wingspan) and explosive ability that gave offensive linemen fits last preseason. Flowers isn't fluid and isn't going to run a pretty arc, although the lack of those two skills are not essential to be a successful pass rusher as Jabaal Sheard has proven over his career. Instead, Flowers game is simply overpowering offensive lineman and controlling the line of scrimmage using his length and hand placement. Flowers didn't play much in 2015 in large part due to a knee injury suffered in the first preseason game and the Patriots top three edge rushers staying healthy.

Flowers doesn't have much utility on special teams like Geneo Grissom does, so he would have to be part of the DE rotation to be part of the active 46 on game days. Coming into the draft, Flowers was a very sound technician on the edge and flashed his ability to disrupt plays in both the run and pass game in preseason last year. I am curious to see if they let Flowers rush from the inside a bit, although Sheard has proven to be very effective in that role but will have to move outside because of the Ninkovich injury. With the first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints coming up soon, Flowers will get his first chance to prove himself on the field. In the interim, I'm going to assume that Chris Long takes over at left end unless Flowers simply outplays him in preseason.