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Finneran: On Ninkovich

Friday, August 04, 2017


Rob Ninkovich

Ninkovich. Just the name sounds sturdy. Sturdy as steel.

The Patriots first loss of the season did not occur against an NFL rival. Rather it occurred in the life and the mind of Rob Ninkovich when he announced his retirement from football earlier this week.

After eleven seasons in the league, the last eight as a Patriot, this talented linebacker/ defensive end called it a day.

His career offers lessons to all of us---lessons on versatility, dependability, preparation, and opportunity. To say that he was a good football player is an understatement. He played a solid game week in and week out for eight straight years. He helped all his teammates play better as well.

His family roots are in Croatia, the same as a coach named Belichick. Belichick thinks that all Croats are tough and strong.  Winston Churchill thought so too. Truth be told, those Eastern European bloodlines are impressive. Big bones, strong legs, massive chests and shoulders, all made stronger and more durable as they have wrestled their spare livelihoods from hard ground.

They came to America and helped build it. They dug coal and iron ore, they poured molten steel, and they farmed thousands of acres across New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois. They worked so hard at hard occupations that the brutal game of football was like a game of tag to them. It was fun.

A few other names will make the point---Nitschke, Butkus, Gronkowski. I call it the “k”s of Eastern Europe. The “k” in the spelling is a telltale sign of their ancient homelands.

A modern curiosity---Ninkovich, Butkus, and Nitschke were all born in Illinois. Perhaps that state should be called the Linebacker State.

It’s ironic to ponder the role of injuries in the careers of football players. Ninkovich was hurt for his first season or two before coming here, and, in his own words, facing the end of his career before it even started. He survived the cut and then made some history here in New England.

Tom Brady’s stellar career makes the point as well. But for a thumping hit on Drew Bledsoe, Brady may have ended up holding a clipboard on the sideline for several years. But Bledsoe was injured and Brady played well as his replacement. When Bledsoe returned he did so with a very competitive performance. But the die was cast, and the door which had opened for Tom Brady then closed on Drew Bledsoe.

Remember too that Tom Brady was passed over 198 times before he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. To imagine that there were 198 better football players than Tom Brady that year is to break out laughing. The Patriots got lucky, very lucky, as the other teams missed the boat on multiple opportunities. For a great lesson in humility go check the 2000 NFL draft. The most knowledgeable football folks in the nation spent their time, money, and professional credibility on a large group of players who remained essentially anonymous for their careers.

It has been reported that Tom Brady cried on the night of the draft as the second, third, fourth, and fifth rounds slipped away, before finally being taken by the Patriots. Perhaps the scouts and coaches who passed him by that night have been crying ever since...............

So Rob Ninkovich, a Boilermaker from Purdue, now joins an illustrious list of Patriots alumni. He gave full service to his team and many memories to the fans.

He will be missed. Godspeed to him and his family.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio.


Related Slideshow: Everything to Need to Know About Patriots 2017 Training Camp

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Training Camp Dates Open to Public 

Gates will open one hour before practice and close one hour after practice ends. 

Practice schedule throughout training camp is subject to change at any time.

  • July 27 - Morning Practice - 9 a.m. 
  • July 28 - Morning Practice - 9 a.m. 
  • July 29 - Morning Practice - 9 a.m. 
  • July 29 - Patriots Hall of Fame Induction - Noon 
  • July 30 - Morning Practice - 9 a.m. 
  • August 7 - Joint practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars - time TBD
  • August 8 - Joint practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars - time TBD


PHOTO: Patriots.com 

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New Faces From Draft 

The Patriots added four players via the 2017 NFL Draft. 

Third Round

With pick number 83, the Patriots selected defensive end Derek Rivers (pictured) from Youngstown State. He will wear number 95 in training camp. 

Rivers is a 6’4” 250 pound edge rusher who was a three year starter at Youngstown State. He set a school record with 41 sacks in his career. 

The Patriots used the 85th pick to select Antonio Garcia, an offensive lineman from Troy. Garcia will wear number 63 in training camp. 

Garcia is a 6’6” 302 pound offensive lineman out of Troy who has some experience playing left tackle.

Fourth Round

The Patriots drafted defensive end Deatrich Wise in the fourth round. 

Wise is a 6’5” 274 pound defensive end out of Arkansas. He finished his college career with 112 tackles, 16.5 tackles and 4 forced fumbles in 50 games. He will wear number 91 for the Patriots. 

Sixth Round 

The Patriots took offensive tackle Connor McDermott in the sixth round. 

McDermott is a 6’8 305 pound tackle out of UCLA and former NFL head coach Jim Mora.


PHOTO: Patriots.com

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New Faces From Signings

The biggest move the Patriots made this offseason was acquiring wide receiver Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints. He will wear number 14 in New England. 

Cooks, 23 years-old, was taken 20th overall in the 2014 NFL draft and has one year remaining on his rookie contract with a fifth year team option.

Last season, Cooks finished with a career high 1,173 yards on 78 catches and eight touchdowns playing with the Saints. 

Stephon Gilmore 

On the first day of free agency, the Patriots signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore from the Buffalo Bills. He will wear number 24 for the Patriots. 

Gilmore had five interceptions and 48 tackles for the Bills last season. 

Kony Ealy 

On the same day they traded for Cooks they also acquired defensive end Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers. Ealy will wear number 94 for the Patriots. 

Last season with Carolina, Ealy recorded 32 tackles and five sacks to go along with two forced fumbles. 

Dwayne Allen

The Patriots signed former Indianapolis Colt tight end Dwayne Allen to play alongside Rob Gronkowski. 

Allen had 35 catches for 405 yards and six touchdowns last season with the Colts. 

Other Notable Signings 

The Patriots also signed runningbacks Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkehead from Buffalo and Cincinnatti respectively. 

Most recently, New England signed linebacker David Harris from the New York Jets and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins from the Cleveland Browns. 

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Who is Gone

The Patriots lost a number of key players off their Super Bowl roster this offseason. 

RB LeGarrette Blount- After rushing for 18 touchdowns last season, Blount signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. 

TE Martellus Bennett - Bennett signed with the Green Bay Packers in the offseason after catching seven touchdown passes for the Patriots last season. 

CB Logan Ryan - Ryan signed with the Tennessee Titans in the offseason after recording 92 combined tackles and two interceptions for the Patriots last season. 

DE Chris Long - Long signed with the Philadelphia Eagles after serving in a part time role with the Patriots. He had 35 tackles and four sacks on the year. 

LB Jabaal Sheard - Sheard signed with the Indianapolis Colts after recording five sacks for the Patriots last season. 

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What Positions are the Battles For

Running Back 

The Patriots enter camp with seven running backs and two full backs on the roster, including new comers Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee. 

James White is already the proven commodity for the Patriots, while Gillislee and Burkehead both served in backup roles in Cincinatti and Buffalo respectively. 

A big question at the running back positon will be Dion Lewis, now over a year removed from a torn ACL. Can he return to his 2015 form? If not, his role could be reduced. 


Malcolm Butler and Gilmore have two spots locked up, but there is competiton for the third cornerback spot that the Patriots use in Nickel packages depending on matchups. 

Returning veteran Eric Rowe will enter camp with the advantage, but wil be challenged by Justin Coleman, Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones. 

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Special Teams 

The Patriots had issues on the special teams unit last season. 

Stephen Gostkowski made just 84% of his field goals last season and missed numerous extra points. 

Cyrus Jones (pictured) was ranked by pro football focus as the worst return specialist in the league. New England used Jones to take the work load from Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. 

Offensive Line Depth 

The Patriots return all their starters on the offensive line from last year's team and added rookies Tony Garcia and Conor McDermott in the draft. 

However, depth could be an issue, especially on the inside, if and when injuries happen. 

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Vegas Odds for a Repeat

The Patriots enter training camp as heavy favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champions. 

According to the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book, the Patriots are 3-1 favorites to repeat as champions. 

The odds are 7-1 that they will face the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl. 

Super Bowl 52 is set for February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 


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