Patriots DE Ninkovich producing in new position

Associated Press Modified: October 11, 2012 at 5:17 pm •  Published: October 11, 2012
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The drafting of outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the first round this year allowed the Patriots to move Ninkovich to end. In the first three games, he had just six tackles and a half sack. But in the other two, he made 11 tackles with two sacks and three forced fumbles.

"I don't think I was frustrated," Ninkovich said. "I just knew my time would come to make some plays. As a defensive end, you're not going to get the big numbers of tackles that some linebackers do, obviously, because you're in a different spot and you're not always having the ball (get) to you every time."

But he has made some big plays.

The Patriots were leading the Broncos 24-7 when Ninkovich beat right guard Orlando Franklin to the outside, came up behind Manning and smacked the ball loose with his right hand. Vince Wilfork recovered at the Broncos 14-yard line.

"The first couple of drives I was trying to just bull rush, trying to collapse the pocket a little bit," Ninkovich said. "Then on that one rush I just changed it up and swiped (at the ball)."

He forced a more critical fumble when Denver had a second-and-10 at the New England 14 yard-line with 3:48 left and the score 31-21. McGahee got the ball on a draw play and Ninkovich jarred the ball out again.

"He's been playing well all year," middle linebacker Jerod Mayo said, "even though those big plays just started showing up."

Ninkovich played end in college at Purdue, but his role in the Patriots system is much different.

He's playing better now that he's focusing on defeating his blocker and going after the player with the ball.

"Defensive end is a position where everything happens pretty fast," Ninkovich said. "I've been able to change a couple of style techniques in my game."

And if he's ever needed at another position, he should be prepared.

"In a Bill Belichick defense, you never know what position you may be in," Wilfork said, "so it's good to know multiple positions, and Ninkovich is one of the guys that moves around a lot, from linebacker to sometimes inside, sometimes end, but he does a very good job of knowing his role. Any given Sunday, Bill may say, 'we want to move you here.'

"You've got to be ready for it and he's answered the challenge every week."

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