Third-year linebacker Ben Niemann has been a stand out at Chiefs training camp. Will he go from a part-time role player to starting for the defending champs?
Last season the Chiefs switched to a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. This was Ben Niemann’s first experience as a 4-3 linebacker. In a conference call, Niemann said, “I think just being in the second year in the Spags system, I feel more comfortable.” Last season he was trying to learn what the system called for, whereas this season, he has a firm grasp of what the scheme requires. The complete understanding of the system will allow Niemann to play more fluidly.
Niemann’s new understanding of the scheme has helped him rotate all over the linebacker group. In his first two years, Nieman’s role was as a rotational dime linebacker. Niemann has been taking his dime linebacker reps but has also seen time at the WILL linebacker spot. Anthony Hitchens was quoted saying, “He’s improving every day. He’s smart. He knows the defense. He knows multiple positions”. This versatility will be huge for the Chiefs as Niemann has now shown the ability to play multiple spots.
The biggest improvement Niemann has made is to his strength. Coach Andy Reid said, “Ben’s put on strength over the year…Ben has a great football mind, a coach’s kid, that whole thing, but with the physical strength, I think he’s added to that”. Previously, Niemann hasn’t been asked to take on physical roles, but in Spagnuolo’s system, the linebackers need to be stout between the tackles. Niemann adding on muscle will lead to massive improvements in that area and help him lineup at multiple spots on the second level.
Ben Niemann’s third year is shaping up to be when the young pro puts it all together. He now has the NFL and scheme experience, he is becoming more versatile and showing the ability to play multiple spots, and his added strength will allow him to make plays at the line of scrimmage. Hitchens and Willie Gay have a starting spot locked up. The inside linebacker spot will come down to Damien Wilson and Niemann. We’re still early in camp, but as of now, it looks like Niemann has gone from role player to starter.
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