Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Chiefs rookie Ben Niemann has gone from an unknown to fill-in starter

November 12, 2018

An undrafted rookie who had to fight to make the roster just in order to contribute on special teams for the first half of the season, Ben Niemann found himself starting at inside linebacker for the team with the best record in the AFC on Sunday.

The 23-year-old took a moment or two to gather himself and catch his breath during a 26-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium. It wasn’t so much the enormity of the moment or being overwhelmed with how far he’d come in such a short time. No, it was simply being on the field more than he had all season.

“I was still on four phases of special teams, so I got a little tired out there,” Niemann said standing in front of his locker room following the game. “It was good. You want to play as many snaps as possible. I had fun out there.”

Niemann tied for the team lead with six tackles in his first NFL start, and the Chiefs held the Cardinals to 14 points and 260 yards of total offense.
Niemann stepped into the starting spot at right inside linebacker, and Reggie Ragland slid over to the left inside linebacker spot where Anthony Hitchens had started six of the first nine games (Ragland and Hitchens started the first nine games side-by-side).

Hitchens’ ribs were bruised in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 28. He started last week in Cleveland, though he had to come off the field during the first possession of the game because of the pain. He returned and played most of that game (69 percent of the defensive snaps).

With Hitchens’ status uncertain all week — he did not practice most of the week, but was active for the game — Niemann prepared as though he’d play. A four-year player at Iowa, Niemann made the transition during camp from playing mostly on the perimeter in college to being in the middle of the field in the NFL.

This season, Hitchens has remained on the field in a passing and rushing situations. On Sunday, Niemann played primarily on first and second down (29 plays) while O’Daniel played in passing situations. O’Daniel actually played more defensive snaps than any of the inside linebackers (43 plays).

“Steaming Niemann was the truth,” Ragland said, laughing it the nickname he’d given the rookie. “I love Ben. He’s one of those Iowa guys who is real smart. My position coach (Mark DeLeone) is from Iowa. My linebacker next to me, Hitch, is from Iowa. I guess it’s the Iowa thing they got going on.

“Steaming Niemann, Ben, is very smart and physical too.
I’m very happy for him and Dorian (O’Daniel). Both of them did a great job today, and we’re going to keep building off this.”

A rookie who stood out in training camp and beat out returner Ukeme Eligwe for a roster spot, Niemann admitted he was probably even more “juiced up” and “excited” to play than when he first took the field during the preseason.

“Back then I was just trying to make the team,” Niemann said. “So I’m definitely happy to be in this position, and there was a lot that went into getting this far. I’m happy to be here.”

Niemann’s father, Jay, is the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator at Rutgers, and couldn’t be in town for the game, but Niemann’s mother, Lou Ann, was in attendance to see his first start.

Popular Posts