Veteran linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who has watched his role steadily increase with New England, isn’t bothered by the first round draftees, pass rusher Chandler Jones and versatile linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who could take snaps away from him.
On the contrary: Ninkovich not only welcomes the competition, he’s ready to help the youngsters any way he can.
“It really doesn’t hurt me at all. I’ve been through a lot in my NFL career, so it really doesn’t affect me as far as guys coming in,” Ninkovich said last week after an OTA session. “I look at it as a plus that the team is going to be better. If you have any type of injury or something, you have guys coming in and we’re all good, we’re all fresh and all talented. So it helps the team out. I’m excited.
“The first year is a long year for rookies, so as much advice as I can give them, it will help them out.”
The 28-year-old Purdue product, who started all 19 games in 2011 with 74 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 2 interceptions during the regular season, is still working to improve, heading into his sixth season.
“I think going into this year, I really want to be better overall, improve on coverage, and getting more pressure on the quarterback,” he said. “I feel every year is kind of a step to get a little bit better and that also comes with experience. So having last year help me out with a lot of the experience I had and all the game-time plays and situations, it was a good year for me and now I want to build on that and continue to do well out there.”
Pepper Johnson is now linebackers coach and Patrick Graham, who was linebackers coach last season, takes over the defensive line, but Ninkovich, like most of his teammates, doesn’t foresee any problems.
“Whoever is going to be coaching me at any given time it varies. Everyone is a good coach. ‘Pep’ is going to help me out. Pat’s going to help me out. Everybody’s going to coach me up so it’s always good to have different styles of coaching and they’re all trying to do one thing, and that’s help me get better,” Ninkovich said.