Croot Loops: LB Ben Niemann

Niemann's best opportunity was Iowa, also might be best fit

Marc Morehouse
Published: February 18 2014 | 12:28 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:47 am in
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Let's acknowledge the fact that Ben Niemann said no to playing college football for his dad, Jay, and Northern Illinois. And let's also realize that's absolutely a statement on the opportunity he had at the University of Iowa.

Ben Niemann was committed and set to play for his dad at Northern Illinois. Jay Niemann is the defensive coordinator for the Huskies. NIU was Niemann's best scholarship offer. Eastern Michigan and Illinois State were the other options. Then, after Niemann camped at Iowa, the Hawkeyes offered.

Niemann committed to the Hawkeyes in late July and never looked back, even when the Huskies upset Iowa in the season opener at Kinnick last season. It wasn't easy, but Iowa was Ben Niemann's best opportunity.

"It's a difficult situation and an awkward one to be honest," Niemann told HawkeyeReport.com.

On Iowa's end, coach Kirk Ferentz said Iowa left the decision up to the family.

"That was hard," said Ferentz, whose three sons (Brian, James and Steve) have played for him at Iowa. "I remember distinctly in the conversations. I remember I was in Nashville in a car talking to Jay. It was hard because I have great respect for their program, Northern Illinois. They have an excellent program. I certainly have great respect for the Niemann family, and the fact that it's the father-son part of it. It was a tough position for everybody. For Ben and Jay and the family, that ball is in their court all the way.

"I just remember talking to Jay after Ben committed, and that's one of those deals. He was happy, but sad for obvious reasons. They're a first class organization at Northern. We're thrilled to have Ben join ourfootball team."

Niemann will come in as an outside linebacker. Iowa continues to try to fill a depth void at the position that really started to sink in 2010. All three of the senior linebackers Iowa had last season were true seniors.

"They said they've just gotten kids there that are long and athletic and put weight on their frames," Niemann told HawkeyeReport. "That's what they did with Christian Kirksey. He came in at 190 or 195 they said, so that's kind of how they see me. They just want a long, athletic kid that they can put weight on."

Basics: Sycamore (Illinois) High School, 6-3, 205, outside linebacker

Dent the depth chart in ’14? — Unless Niemann shows something in camp and perhaps breaks in on special teams, he'll probably need the year in the weight room. Iowa outside linebackers have to run with tight ends, running backs and wide receivers. It's been a unique position at Iowa, one in which you don't see a lot of big numbers but is hugely important. The Iowa cookie cutter at OLB is around 6-3, 230 pounds. Kirksey was right about at that. Travis Perry, a junior who'll take over this season, is 6-3, 232.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison — Travis Perry (Sure, Perry doesn't have much of a YouTube for the Hawkeyes, but he's basically been the next OLB for the last two seasons. The walk-on has range and can really cover. He also has had special teams value. It'd be a nice target for Niemann to hit. If he can run like Kirksey, even better.)

ESPN.com scouting snippet — Is a strong, punishing wrap tackler in space; should prove to be effective as a special team's coverage defender; shows good production returning punts, keeping the ball off the turf while displaying the quick elusiveness needed to break free and outrun opponents to the end zone. We see a possession receiver with good top end playing speed; appears to enjoy working between the hashes while also showing good deep route skills; is a tough guy who blocks linebackers and defensive backs effectively; plays the defensive safety position off the hashes very well, displaying underneath and deep route awareness with eyes on the quarterback; has good range, demonstrating the ability to make the baseball turn and get the head around to locate deep balls in flight. . . . Once Niemann settles into a permanent position we see him having a very productive career at the BCS level of competition; in addition, his toughness and athleticism should allow him to do a variety of jobs effectively on special teams.

What Iowa said . . .

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on catching up at linebacker depth: “Having three seniors is good news and bad news there. The other factor there at that position, we've lost a couple of players over the last year too medical redshirts. So, kind of behind-the-scenes, that number was growing, besides the obvious three guys that we had that are seniors and the four guys that we have signed, we really think are good football players. They're the kind of guys that we've played with in the past. And the key for them is to continue to develop and get on that. Hopefully, we'll help our depth there because we were pretty lean at that position."

Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson on the family decision: "I think it was hard. He [Ben] grew up in Iowa a little bit. His dad [Jay, who played football at Iowa State] coached in Iowa [Drake, UNI and Simpson from 1989 to 2007]. He and the Renders are very good friends. He was a guy we saw on tape. He was committed to Northern Illinois, so it was a hard decision to make the change."

Where could Niemann end up?: "You could see him playing wide receiver, linebacker, safety, all of that. He came to camp and was extremely athletic. You can see the toughness on tape. He showed it again when he came to camp. Again, a no-brainer from the linebacker standpoint. He'll start on the outside."

Coach's kid, probably comes in with a high football IQ?: Not only high football IQ, but he knows what it takes to be successful at this level."

What Rivals.com said . . .

Midwest recruiting coordinator Josh Helmholdt: “A pure football player kind-of-a-kid. I think some people had questions about where he fits, what kind of player is he going to be? What position is he really going to fit in best at the college level? He just makes plays. I think he's a guy who could end up being an outstanding pick up for them that a lot of other people missed on."

What I think (FWIW, obviously) . . .

Niemann seems to have a great grasp of tackling fundamentals. He lowers his shoulder, bends his knees and wraps. He seems to want to get his head across a runner's face and stop his path. The YouTubes showed he can track plays and take on blockers. As a receiver, he goes up and gets it and really runs well after the catch. Coach's kids are gold in my mind. High football IQ, high commitment level.


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