PHILADELPHIA -- One of the intriguing new defensive players for the Patriots entering the 2013 season is top draft choice Jamie Collins, a hybrid player in college who might be asked to adopt a similar role in the pros. During his productive career at Southern Mississippi, Collins worked both off the line as a linebacker and on the edge as a defensive end, things we've seen him do thus far with the Patriots as well.
Collins has a veteran group of front-seven players to learn from in New England, Rob Ninkovich among them. Ninkovich has some similarities to Collins in that he's played multiple roles with the Patriots, working as both an end-of-the-line player and dropping into coverage on occasion.
Following Wednesday's joint practice with the Eagles, Ninkovich dissected some of the challenges of platooning between two different roles, noting that not every NFL linebacker is capable of handling both duties.
"You have to have more of a defensive end skill set mentality to move from linebacker," he said. "It's much harder to go from off the ball to right on the ball -- because everything happens much quicker -- than it is to start on the ball and back up. I think that first and foremost, playing defensive line helps you take guys on, have better technique, use your hands well, and then when you convert to linebacker it just kind of works together."
Throughout the course of a game, there are instances when a player is moved from linebacker to defensive end -- and back -- on a play-to-play basis. Ninkovich said making the adjustment becomes second nature for a player.
"It's kind of subconscious, because you hear the play, you know what your technique is and what your responsibilities are, so it's just you hear the play [and think instantly], this is what I'm doing, it's not really like -- you know when you're a D-end and when you're a linebacker, let's put it that way," he said.
He stressed the importance of patience in moving from a hand-in-the-dirt alignment to playing off the line of scrimmage and in coverage.
"It takes a little bit to get used to coverage," he said. "As a defender, when you're a defensive end, you're always taught get to the ball, get to the ball, chase, chase. When you're a linebacker, you have to be more patient, wait for things to develop. Routes don't just happen instantly, you've got to be patient, so I think that's the hardest part, is learning to not be so aggressive and let things develop, be patient. The receiver will tell you where the ball's going with their routes."
Just how prominent of a role Collins plays this season remains to be seen. While it's still early in training camp, Ninkovich likes what the rookie has shown so far.
"Been impressed with Jamie," Ninkovich continued. "Great athlete, runs well, I'm excited to see him get more involved in the defense."