Chiefs LB Ben Niemann calls first NFL game ‘a childhood dream comes true’
A Chiefs linebacker wearing No. 56 burst through the line of scrimmage and into the backfield, smothering a ball carrier for no gain. The familiar scene has transpired inside Arrowhead Stadium for more than a dozen years now.
Except this wasn’t veteran Derrick Johnson. It was undrafted rookie Ben Niemann.
After Johnson’s departure to the Raiders in the offseason, Niemann picked up Johnson’s No. 56 and then picked up where Johnson left off over the previous 13 seasons — he led the team in tackles. In the Chiefs preseason opener Thursday against the Texas, Niemann had five stops, four of them solo.
“I’m just trying to make plays, do my job, give great effort and play hard,” Niemann said. “Just show that I can compete on tape for this organization.”
It’s all in the effort to make an NFL roster, an uphill climb for a player who was not one of the 256 selections on draft weekend in April. Niemann had hoped — even expected — to hear his name called after starting all 40 games for Iowa over the past three seasons. He had 201 career tackles with the Hawkeyes.
But drafted or not, his approach to NFL training camp remains the same. He has only a few weeks — and only a few games — to stand out from the crowd. Thursday was a step in the right direction. Niemann wasn’t perfect, but he displayed an ability to work around blockers and rely on technique to make stops.
“He played good,” Chiefs inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone said. “There are some things, he would tell you, there’s quite a few things we need to clean up.
“What was good to see is you saw a guy ... the moment wasn’t too big for him and he made plays. He’s definitely a football guy.”
Niemann did not see a snap with the first unit, even though projected starters Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland sat out the preseason opener. But he saw considerable time in the second half, and he was a regular on special teams.
“It was awesome. Just a surreal feeling,” Niemann said. “Kinda the childhood dream come true. Definitely thankful and blessed to be able to go out there and play.”
He drew the praise of Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who wasn’t asked about Niemann specifically in his postgame press conference but said, “I thought Ben had some nice plays down the stretch.”
The biggest was the fourth-down stop for no gain. With the Texans three yards from a game-sealing touchdown, Niemann shuffled to his left, read the play and stopped Lavon Coleman shy of the first down. It offered the Chiefs an opportunity to drive down the field and win the game.
“It kinda opened up right there,” Niemann said. “The coaches always tell us to have depth in our alignments so we can come downhill and hit it hard and make a play so they don’t drive us past the line of scrimmage. So I just saw the opening and shot it and was able to make a play on the ball.”