Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Chiefs LB Ben Niemann's football IQ makes him a candidate for more playtime


Charles Goldman 


Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Ben Niemann is slated for more playing time on defense in 2020. During the 2019 season, Niemann played a subpackage role on defense as the dime linebacker for Kansas City. He was also a core special teams player for the team.

Entering the 2020 season, Niemann seems likely to earn playtime as the starting WILL linebacker in addition to his role as the dime linebacker and his responsibilities on special teams. So, what has given the coaching staff the confidence to give Niemann an opportunity at a bigger role during the upcoming season? He’s become stronger in his third year, but the one common thing pointed out by Andy Reid, Steve Spagnuolo and Matt House is Niemann’s football smarts.

“If you had to say one thing that makes him a candidate, it would be from the chin to the hairline—a very intelligent football player,” Spagnuolo told reporters on Monday. “We all know his dad’s a football coach and played at Iowa and all that, but I’ve got a great deal of respect for Ben. He’s a true pro. He knows everything we put in. He’s a great communicator, he’s become a great communicator. I’ve got great confidence in him and Hitch (Anthony Hitchens) when we put them in front of the huddle and when they break the huddle and have to make adjustments. And I would tell you this, I think Ben moves around a lot better than people give him credit for. I mean, he’s tall and all that, but I still think he’s a really good knee-bender, that’s why we put him out in pass coverage, and I’m looking forward to watching Ben play some football this fall.”

Niemann’s father Jay is the assistant defensive line coach for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Growing up as part of a football family certainly helps when it comes to mastering the finer aspects of the game.

Niemann is certainly displaying more comfort and confidence in the system in his second year as Spagnuolo indicates. That comfort level seems to allow him to put his football IQ to the test, communicate with his defensive teammates, and play fast.

“I think just being in the second year in the Spags (Steve Spagnuolo) system I feel more comfortable,” Niemann told reporters. “In college, I didn’t play in the box, I wasn’t an in the box linebacker. My rookie year we ran a 3-4 scheme which was totally different, night and day than what we’re in now. Last year and this year have kind of been my first two years in my experience as a true inside 4-3 linebacker, so I think just being more comfortable in the scheme.”

The Chiefs’ linebacker coach, Matt House, also appreciates the acumen with which Niemann sees the game of football. He also noted his flexibility, non-literal as opposed to Spagnuolo’s knee-bending comment. Niemann is able to play a lot of different positions for the Chiefs and do so successfully, which makes him that much more valuable to the team.

Ben’s just got a good feel for the game,” House said. “He sees the game from a wide, wide lens and that definitely helps you. The more flexibility you have, the more you can get a guy ready with limited reps, which helps too.”

Going back to the common thread of Niemann’s smarts — he spent the offseason preparing and learning as many different spots on the defense as possible. That way Niemann could be prepared for whatever the coaching staff threw at him come training camp.

“I mean just getting into my book, learn as many spots as possible, so I can plugin and play wherever they need me to,” Niemann said. “You know, line up shuffle, things change, guys come in, guys leave, guys get hurt so just being able to plug and play kind of wherever and this offseason just tried to attack everything in terms of working out the playbook and all that.”

Between the mastery of the playbook and Niemann’s unique feel for the game, the coaching staff sees a player ready for more work, responsibility and opportunity within the defense. It’ll be up to him to seize that opportunity, put his football IQ to work and make the most of it when the Chiefs open the season next week.

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