BOSTON — About two years ago, Rob Ninkovich wasn't sure how much longer he'd still be in the league. He was a long snapper who was released by the Saints, and he figured his career might have run its course.
The Patriots came calling at the start of training camp in 2009 — Bill Belichick admitted last season it was mostly because they had roster space and a need at linebacker for practice reps — and revived Ninkovich's hopes. While he was mostly a special teamer in 2009, Ninkovich grew into a very capable starter at outside linebacker in 2010.
Because of that, this is a very exciting offseason for the 27-year-old, who can't wait to build on the momentum he created in 2010.
"I put a lot of hard work into preparing for camp [in 2010]," Ninkovich said. "My first year here [in 2009], I had a solid year in special teams and a limited amount of snaps on defense, actually had some good production. Coming into training camp last year, it was going to be big for me to come in and show the coaches I could expand my role a little bit and do some more on defense. The first week, I was starting at outside linebacker, so it all happened real fast for me, but I was happy. I was able to go out there this year and show everyone that I could be out there and make plays. Hopefully, this year I can expand my role even more."
Ninkovich set career highs with four sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. And after suffering a minor knee injury during the Patriots' playoff loss to the Jets, Ninkovich has essentially completed his rehab and has been working out to get ready to keep it going in 2011.
Because of his production, this has been a completely different offseason for him, and he's excited to keep it going.
"This offseason is a lot different from every offseason I've ever had because I've kind of established myself," Ninkovich said. "I can make plays on the football field. Every other season before this year, I've been more worried about just making a team, rather than building on the season that I had the year before. This year coming up is way different than every other year I've ever had in the sense that I have something to build off of, and I can have the confidence to go in and build on that."