FOXBORO, Mass. — Rob Ninkovich is one of few New England Patriots players to miss a Friday practice and suit up on Sunday.
Special exceptions are made for players like Ninkovich, who is not only a captain but one of the most durable players in the NFL. Ninkovich extended his regular season consecutive games streak to 102 as he played through a shin injury against the Miami Dolphins. He’s played in 114 consecutive games, including playoffs, and he has 81 straight regular season starts.
Ninkovich flew down to Miami separately from the rest of his teammates to play against the Dolphins as he received additional treatment for the injury suffered in Week 16.
“Very durable, very dependable,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about Ninkovich. “Durability is more important than ability in this league. Not only has he not missed a game, he’s barely missed a practice. He’s out there every day, so that builds the communication and consistency with your defense, with his teammates, with everything. He’s a guy you don’t even think about being out there, because he’s always out there. That’s huge in the overall development of your team or particularly that unit.”
Ninkovich not only started, he played 65 of 72 defensive snaps, recording two QB hits and three hurries as a pass rusher. He finished the season with 6.5 sacks but played a slightly decreased role, despite starting all 16 games, as the Patriots mixed Jabaal Sheard into a defensive end rotation with Ninkovich and Chandler Jones.
“Rob’s played a strong role for us,” Belichick said. “I think his selection by his teammates as a captain reflects the leadership and respect he has amongst him. Rob’s been a very versatile guy for us. He’s played, kind of like (Mike) Vrabel, at the end of the line primarily, but he’s played inside linebacker, defensive end, he’s played in the kicking game. He’s done a lot of the things like Mike did that you need somebody to be doing on your defense somewhere along the line because of the offenses we face and some of the different schemes we use. You can’t move 11 guys around, but sometimes you can move one or two and create that. That’s been important.”
Ninkovich’s ability to play linebacker and drop back in coverage is important for the Patriots, who like to mix defensive schemes and present opposing offenses with different looks. He finished fourth among defensive linemen with five batted passes at the line of scrimmage and allowed 12 catches on 19 targets for just 80 yards with a touchdown.
Thumbnail photo via Robert Duyos/USA TODAY Sports Images
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