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Two Chiefs players that stood out on the tape from Thursday night

Demarcus Robinson and Ben Niemann were standouts from preseason Week 1 down in the film lab.

NFL: Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The first preseason game is in the books, and while it may not have been the most exciting or telling game for Kansas City Chiefs fans, we can all just agree that we are happy football is back.

There was plenty of stuff to like, some stuff to love, and some stuff to hope gets fixed in the near future. Due to the limited video angles of preseason games, this inaugural edition of the Arrowhead Pride Film Lab will be a double-dip, as two different Chiefs stood out under the bright lights.

First up, we’ll look at lone touchdown-scorer Demarcus Robinson and how he came about the solid production he put up on limited snaps, followed by a potential camp hero in Ben Niemann, as he seemed to be everywhere at once in the second half.

Demarcus Robinson

The first thing that jumped out when watching Robinson against the Houston Texans was that he was lining up exclusively as an outside wide receiver.

This is important to note, as he did receive more snaps than other players in competition for that third wide receiver position, but he was not receiving slot reps at this point in time.

The second item popping up was a more consistent and clean get-off the line of scrimmage. It sounds rudimentary, but Robinson has had different stances and get-offs since his days at Florida, often resulting in him being a tick slow or having a gather step.

Small sample size warning, but that did appear to be cleaned up through this game, as his vertical releases all looked very similar and his lateral releases came from the same stance without the gather step.

This was a big third-down play for the Chiefs and Robinson executed it (near) flawlessly.

Coming off the line of scrimmage (LoS), he gets low with his hips, shoulders out of his toes and pumps his arms, which indicates a vertical route to the defensive back. As he approaches his break, Robinson doesn’t lift his chest but rather sinks his hips while firing his feet to decelerate to make a break back to the quarterback.

The two unheralded parts of this route are:

1) how Robinson pins his inside shoulder back to help make the turn tight without coming to a complete stop, and

2) how he sets himself up to work back one to two yards to the ball after his break.

The ball does get on him a little bit, resulting in a bit of a double catch, but he was attempting to extend out to the ball and this extension allows him to gather the ball begin to work for yards after the catch.

Robinson still had a slight timing issue when working with Chad Henne in this game, which, as mentioned in this article about Robinson being poised to step up, was something he had to work on.

It’s hard to kill just the quarterback or just the wide receiver when they are working with other players at the same positions, but in order to be consistently effective, the two need to be on the same page more often than not. There was a short hitch that Robinson got around, squared up on and had a brief moment before the ball arrived. That particular play was probably a bit more on the quarterback for being a tad late with the ball.

Here is a simple speed out that is just out of the reach of Robinson. This play could very simply be a slightly overthrown pass by the quarterback, but Robinson could also get into and out of this speed break a little faster.

Looking at the trajectory of the ball, the quarterback appeared to be throwing to a spot a bit shorter than where Robinson ended his cut as well. Again, this could simply be an inaccurate pass, but it’s something that popped up a few times with Robinson last year as well.

When Robinson and his quarterback are on the same page, it’s a different ball game.

Robinson is on a fade here, and while the route looks simple, there is a bit more nuance to it than first seen. The free outside release is nice, but the cornerback is playing inside leverage, trying to squeeze Robinson into the sideline. Robinson, on the same page with his quarterback, knows he has time to make a double move and does so with a little stutter step.

This hesitation makes it look like he’s about cross the defensive back’s face and break inside, resulting in the defensive back also hesitating. Robinson then re-accelerates upfield, and while the move doesn’t generate a ton of vertical separation, look at all the lateral space he gave Henne to put that ball between him and the sideline.

There is simply no way a defensive back can cover all that space through Robinson on a good throw, which is what we saw for the touchdown. Robinson also does a good job of tracking the pass to his outside shoulder without changing his gait or losing momentum.

Ultimately, we are looking at a very limited sample size here and doing so through a narrow scope, but Robinson is still showing signs of progress, which can be great for the Chiefs.

His feet in his routes may be the best on the team, and if he can continue to nail down some of the more broad tricks of the trade (armbars, attacking leverages, opening throwing lanes laterally), there should no reason he isn’t part of the offense this year.

His timing was only seen with Henne and not Mahomes at this point, so that’s something to eye moving forward, but the report card from game one comes back with an A for Robinson.

Ben Niemann

Niemann got on the field with most of the second-team defense to start the second half, and from that point on, he seemed to be literally everywhere.

As a jumping-off point, Niemann showed fantastic instincts (mental processing, reads the field well, whatever you wanna call it) like many other Iowa linebackers currently in the league. He isn’t hesitant to act on what he sees and is always working downhill.

He wasn’t put in a lot of positions to test his overall athleticism, which is probably what needs to be seen the most, but playing ahead in the snap thanks to his mental ability can help overcome any deficiencies there.

Outside of the quick reads, Niemann showcased fantastic textbook tackling that is even perfect for the new rules. He didn’t get an opportunity to lay any big hits, but he was engaging with a low center of gravity and had his chest up while wrapping up the ball carrier every time he could.

This was a good read on a tight end working downfield on a play designed to fool second-level players on the defense.

Niemann opens up to play his coverage responsibilities but reads the tight end like a book and is working back to the LoS quickly. His engagement of the tight end is quite impressive as well, quickly works laterally around the tight end’s block attempt to force the running back to cut back inside. Not being content with just changing the running back’s path, Niemann is able to work outside-in and get back around the tight end to make a textbook tackle.

Again with the good reads, Niemann plays the three reads perfectly here.

The nearest offensive guard chops forward to indicate run, and the nearest running back works to the far outside triggering Niemann to flow with him. As soon as Niemann sees the ball, in the running back’s hands as he tries to cut up through an open lane, it’s up to only him to make the stop.

Niemann does a great job covering all the space but doing so with power and aggression. It’s hard to not overcommit but Niemann is able to get the angle he wants. He comes downhill hard, gets low and stays square resulting not only in a tackle but also a tackle that allows no forward momentum to carry for the first down.

Flex on ‘em all you want after that one young man; you deserved it.

Niemann, an undrafted rookie, was not perfect in this game (everyone panic).

But seriously, plays like this happen to veterans all the time, so seeing a young guy overcommit to a run play because he was playing overly aggressive and trusting what he saw is not something to overreact to.

Come film time, someone will sit down with him and make sure he goes over reading the interior offensive lineman first, then the nearest running back, then the ball, that way you get sucked up on plays like this.

Niemann appears to be tracking just the running back on this play and comes up to play it aggressively but doesn’t recognize the pass play until it’s too late and the ball is tossed just over his fingertips. He’ll live and learn, but this is a good experience for him on things to trigger that aggressive attacking style that inside linebackers need to have in the NFL.

This is why you have to trust your reads as a linebacker, even if they are wrong occasionally.

The previous clip shows Niemann reading the play wrong and getting pulled out of position, but on this play, that same quick trigger based on what he saw results in a tackle for loss.

The moment that offensive lineman fired out of his stance low and forward, Niemann is coming downhill and he shoots right off the center’s back hip into the backfield.

This was the best display of athleticism from Niemann and it’s promising, good burst into the backfield and even a little flexibility to make that turn at that speed to chase the running back down. I’m in no way comparing him to Derrick Johnson, but this is a classic example of why DJ was good when he was at his best.

He was aggressive to act on his reads and when they were right, he cleaned up. It’s a big change from some other LBs we’ve seen in KC over the past few years (Kevin Pierre-Louis, Ramik Wilson, Terrance Smith, DJ Alexander, etc..) and seems to be a theme with all of the Chiefs current linebackers.

After his first game, Ben Niemann should have earned himself some snaps with the next team up because, quite simply, he was better than the offensive players he was playing against.

It’s great to see a young guy outclass lesser competition. That’s what they have to do, but there may not be a ton more to learn about him if he continues to outmatch lesser-tiered players with fantastic mental processing and controlled aggression.

It’s going to be hard with Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland returning sometime this preseason, but hopefully, we’ll get to see him steal some first or true second-team snaps with Ukeme Eligwe here pretty soon. Two areas to monitor for Niemann going forward (not weaknesses, just things that need to be judged more thoroughly) are his overall athleticism compared to NFL starters and his ability in coverage whether in hook/curl zones or in man-to-man.

Niemann is already playing nearly every special teams snap and looking like a competent player there. If he can prove that he’s not deficient in either of those two areas, he would be making it very hard for a front office to not put him on the final roster.

That wraps up two standouts from the Chiefs Week 1 preseason game vs the Texans.

Going through the rest of the preseason, most film reviews will follow a similar trend of covering more than one player due to limited snap counts.

I’m always open for suggestions. If anyone wants to see a specific player that stood out to them, just let me know on Twitter during the game or shortly thereafter.

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