Rob Ninkovich likely would have been out four weeks, suspension or not, with a torn triceps. So his four-game ban for testing positive for a banned suspense doesn’t make much of an impact on the New England Patriots’ on-field performance.
The suspension does hurt Ninkovich’s reputation, however. The defensive end is known as a hard-working player who does things the right way. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound pass rusher, who has played 102 consecutive games, worked his way into a starting defender after being cut by the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. The Saints considered converting him into a long snapper before he caught on with the Patriots in 2009. Since then, he’s gone on to start 90 games, while recording 262 tackles and 42 sacks. He’s been a consistent mainstay on New England’s defense, changing roles from strong-side linebacker to defensive end when needed.
The Patriots already were planning for life in September without Ninkovich since he went down with the torn triceps during training camp. Chris Long has been starting at left defensive end in the Pats’ base defense with Trey Flowers taking over the right side since Jabaal Sheard went down with a knee injury.
Shea McClellin, who like Ninkovich can play a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role, also could see more snaps with Ninkovich out. McClellin is dealing with an undisclosed injury of his own.
Ninkovich’s injury also could open the door for newcomer Barkevious Mingo, who shined Thursday in New England’s preseason finale, to receive more snaps. Mingo also plays a hybrid edge role.
Finally, Ninkovich’s suspension opens a slot on the Patriots’ 53-man roster, which must be whittled by 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. The most logical beneficiary would be second-year pro and 2015 third-round pick Geneo Grissom, who appeared to be on the bubble despite strong special-teams play. Ninkovich’s suspension almost ensures Grissom will have four more weeks to audition for a full-time role on the Patriots’ 53-man roster.
Because Ninkovich was going to be sidelined anyway with an injury, his suspension almost works in the Patriots’ favor. But Ninkovich’s reputation, and wallet, takes a hit with the four-game ban.
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