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Rob Ninkovich: Chris Long is like the brother I've never had

HOUSTON -- Defensive ends Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich didn’t have a personal connection prior to the 2016 season. Now they’re planning a vacation along with their wives for the offseason.

Credit social media with the initial assist after Long signed a one-year contract with the New England Patriots in mid-March.

“I hooked up with him on Twitter, saying, ‘Hey, man, welcome to the family,’ and he just hit me back,” explained Ninkovich, who has been with the Patriots since 2009. “From the first day of workouts, we just had a great time.”

In addition to playing the same position, the two have their lockers side by side, which has further solidified their connection. Some days during the media’s access period, they will turn their chairs outward to the middle of the room and hold court.

In a year when team togetherness has been a big theme -- Ninkovich was handing out boots to each member of the front seven Sunday morning -- the Long-Ninkovich pairing highlights it.

“We’ve had similar careers in length and productivity. We have a lot in common,” said Long, 31. “Off the field, we’re pretty similar guys too. I think he’s just fun to be around; it’s fun to have his locker right there. He’ll pick you up any day there’s a lull in energy, and you try to do the same for him.”

Each likes to give the other a hard time when warranted.

“It’s fun, because we’re different personalities, definitely a different spectrum of comedy and all that stuff. But we get along great,” said Ninkovich, 32. “I know how to bug him. He knows how to bug me. It’s almost like having a brother, which I don’t have.”

As for the needling, Ninkovich said, “I can’t believe a guy like him wouldn’t have a barn full of sweet cars. But he likes vans and off-roading Mercedes-Benz conversion vans. For me, I’m like, ‘What is that?’ And then there are his hemp shoes. He just has a different oddness to him. It’s cool. We’re both odd.”

They’re both productive as well, with Ninkovich totaling 32 tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble in 12 games and Long totaling 35 tackles, four sacks and three passes defended in 16 games.

“He’s older like me, and he’s played here a long time, so he’s helped me understand the intricacies of the scheme and the different things you’re going to be asked to do,” Long said. “Some of them are things you aren’t used to, so having a guy here that has experienced it a long time and is trusted in this building, it helps a lot.”

Differences between them?

“He’s very intense. I’m not as intense as he is. When I see him on the field, I’m like, ‘I’m not going to mess with that guy.' I’m more passive,” Ninkovich cracked before turning serious.

“Chris has been awesome from the first day we signed him. We kind of hit it off with a good relationship, a friendship, as the veteran, been-in-the-league-awhile guys. It’s been great.”