It’s kind of odd to think about Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Ben Niemann as an experienced veteran — but since he’s now entering his fourth NFL season, that’s what he’s become.
And as such, he and veteran Anthony Hitchens are among those that young Chiefs — like fellow linebackers Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. — can rely upon for help and advice.
“They both know they can come to Hitch or I about anything,” Niemann told reporters after Monday’s training camp session at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. “Both Hitch and myself just try to be open with those guys [and] help them in any way possible. When we’re not in, we’re still watching — trying to coach [by giving] our little two cents on things we went through picking up the scheme — and trying to help those guys grow and improve their games.”
In particular, Niemann — who entered the league as undrafted free agent for the Chiefs in 2018 — may be seen by the younger players as someone who knows what it takes to make an NFL roster; by now, he certainly knows what it takes to get the attention of special teams coordinator Dave Toub and head coach Andy Reid.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it,” explained Niemann. “But any time you can add special-teams value — whether you’re an undrafted rookie or an older guy — that’s a big piece of what we do here. Coach Toub and Coach Reid put a lot of emphasis on it. So any way you can kind of give yourself kind of an ‘up’ in the process is big.”
Niemann said that developing into a quality special-teams player is mostly about buying into a mindset.
“Toub talks about it,” he noted. “It’s a mentality — a mindset — to being open to help the team — in really any way you can.”
And now entering his third season under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Niemann said that it’s much the same on defense: bring additional value to the team by not being a one-trick pony.
“[That’s] being able to kind of ‘plug and play’ in different spots,” he said. “There were a couple of games last year where I was playing multiple spots within the game when we had guys go down [with] COVID — things like that. So mentally, staying in your playbook, staying up to date with what we’re doing — weekly, we make little tweaks in front adjustments and coverages — [and] not just zeroing in one position, but kind of being open and seeing the whole defense for the scheme itself.”
Niemann said that with each passing season, that process gets easier and easier for the veteran players.
“Every year, everybody’s getting more comfortable in the scheme,” he said. “And you know, the more comfortable we are, the more little tweaks and adjustments [Spagnuolo] can put in — just because it’s not a basic level. We’re at kind of that advanced level; we have a full understanding of the scheme. So you can add more to it.”
But Nieman said that Gay — who returned from the concussion protocol on Monday, allowing him to continue preparations for his second NFL season — is already looking like a veteran in the scheme.
“I see that this year, he’s running around a little bit quicker,” Niemann declared. “I think he’s feeling more comfortable with the scheme and all that, so it’s allowed him to play faster. He’s doing a good job, too. It was good to get him back out here today.”
Niemann spent his offseason back home in Iowa, where he put on a few pounds and continued his yearly offseason quest to get stronger and faster. But he said was glad to get back on the field during the preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
“It was fun to get back out there,” he said. “Obviously, [there are] things you can improve on, as always — but from a body aspect, it’s just trying to maintain those gains you make throughout the year — and stay healthy.”
And that, too, is one of the keys to making an NFL 53-man roster.