FOXBOROUGH — The first time around against the Bills? It proved to be an awakening of sorts for Rob Ninkovich, who was credited with five tackles (four unassisted), a sack (for a 5-yard loss), a quarterback hurry, and a forced fumble in the Patriots’ 52-28 victory Sept. 30 at Buffalo.
Ninkovich, who had recorded only six tackles in the first three games of the season, talked afterward about how he “held myself accountable the first couple of games’’ and how “I didn’t feel active enough.”
He said he was able to change his approach “and got back to being more energetic.’’
Since that game, Ninkovich has been on a bit of a personal tear. Through the first half of the season, he has recorded 32 tackles (26 solo), five sacks for 28.5 yards in losses, six hurries, four forced fumbles, a pair of fumble recoveries, and one pass breakup.
The resurgence was a function of his comfort at left defensive end.
“I think that, obviously, being in a new position, you get comfortable, you get a little bit more of your awareness back the more plays you’re in a certain position,’’ Ninkovich said. “So I think it was just getting back to being comfortable and getting in a new position that I kind of was settling into and just playing well.’’
Ninkovich’s four forced fumbles are tied for second in the NFL with Dallas’s DeMarcus Ware and Denver’s Elvis Dumervil.
“Rob’s been playing that position since he’s been here — end of the line, standing up, three-point stance, whatever it is, it’s been pretty much the same,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “I wouldn’t say there’s been a lot of change in what he’s done. Some, but not a lot.”
Branch on Talib
While Belichick remained mum on the subject of Aqib Talib, receiver Deion Branch said Tuesday he believes the former Buccaneers cornerback will be a valuable addition.
“I played against him in preseason and stuff like that,’’ said Branch, the only player in the locker room willing to volunteer his impressions of Talib. “He’s a great player.’’
Talib, a 2008 first-round draft choice of the Buccaneers, is not eligible to join the Patriots until after Nov. 12 because of a four-game league suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. So he was not with the team as it prepared for Sunday’s home game against the Bills.
“I don’t know if we’ll use him the same way [Tampa Bay] used him,’’ Branch said. “It’s all about what happens once he gets here.’’
The Patriots, though, seemed to send a message that they were willing to take on any player — even one with a checkered past such as Talib’s — who was capable of helping the team.
“Well, you know, Coach Belichick and his staff and the organization will always do that,’’ Branch said. “They look out for the team first and they’ll do whatever it takes to help improve the team.’’
Tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) was one of four players not spotted at practice, but he had a good excuse: He celebrated his 23d birthday in memorable fashion by being at his wife’s side for the birth of their daughter, Avielle. Also absent from the media-access portion of practice were running back Brandon Bolden (knee), linebacker Tracy White (foot), and defensive end Trevor Scott (hamstring). The Patriots did welcome the return of safety Steven Gregory (hip) and cornerback Kyle Arrington (head) . . . The Patriots signed linebacker Jerrell Harris, a former Alabama teammate of rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower, to the practice squad . . . During the bye week, Ninkovich contemplated cleaning out his gutters, which were overflowing with leaves. He started to do so until he got on his roof. “I decided, ‘Hey, I’m renting this place. I shouldn’t be falling off the roof of my house right now,’ so I just stopped what I was doing,’’ he said. “The first time I got on the roof, I was like, “OK, I’m not doing that.’ ”