Former Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann on his 4.6 40 and a possible position switch at the next level. Mark Emmert/Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Ben Niemann was low-key about his fast time in the 40-yard dash during the Iowa football team’s Pro Day on Monday.
The three-year starter at outside linebacker was timed in 4.6 seconds flat, impressive stuff for a guy that measured just under 6-foot-3 and weighed 235 pounds.
“I’m happy with that,” was all Niemann would say.
His former Hawkeye teammate, Josey Jewell, was more effusive.
“I think Ben’s got a lot to offer a team. Maybe he hasn’t gotten the big hype and stuff like that — I think he’s fine without it — but I think he’ll do a great job on a team, whatever team he goes to and whatever he does,” Jewell said of Niemann. “I think he’s a sneaky fast guy. He’s a football player, that’s for sure.”
Niemann may be the most under-the-radar NFL prospect the Hawkeyes have this spring. He wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, like Jewell and four others were. He’s not mentioned in mock drafts, despite piling up more than 200 tackles and showing impressive pass coverage ability playing alongside Jewell and Bo Bower.
Niemann said he’s heard from 10 NFL teams. He has meetings set up with the Patriots and Texans. The Patriots were set to interview Niemann, Jewell and Bower all together later Monday.
That’s heady stuff.
But Niemann is also getting mixed messages about where he projects to play in the NFL. There were 39 scouts in attendance Monday. Niemann said one team told him they could see him putting on 20 pounds and playing inside linebacker. Another said they see him as a “Sam” linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at his current weight.
“I guess we’d have to find out when I got there if my speed and all that translated,” Niemann said of the prospect of bulking up to 255 pounds. “But whatever it takes. Whatever I can do to get a shot at it.”
He’ll get his shot, although it may have to come as a free agent. Jewell nailed it on the head: Niemann’s a football player.
Former Hawkeye guard Sean Welsh says being back in Iowa City gave him a comfort level at Pro Day. Mark Emmert/Hawk Central
Welsh has a better day
Former Iowa guard Sean Welsh wanted to improve in two areas from his showing at the NFL Scouting Combine three weeks ago: a better 40 time and more repetitions in the bench press.
Welsh was able to check both boxes Monday. He ran a 5.28 40, which was .15 faster than he showed in Indianapolis. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 22 times, two more times than in Indy. Welsh let the rest of his earlier results speak for themselves.
“I think it just helps, being in this environment, being home,” Welsh said of his better workout, “having my nutrition and everything here.”
Welsh projects as a late-round NFL Draft pick. He said he had a private workout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week and has one scheduled soon with the Tennessee Titans.
Teams want to get a look at his fundamentals, Welsh said.
“They just want to see how you bend, how you work,” he said.
Former Iowa offensive lineman Boone Myers on a painful decision to end his senior season early and have ankle surgery. Mark Emmert/Hawk Central
Injured duo push each other
Ike Boettger and Boone Myers have been rehabilitation partners this winter. After their senior seasons were cut short by injuries that required surgery, both offensive linemen were just thrilled to be able to participate in a Pro Day.
“It’s the only day that’s been on my calendar,” Boettger said succinctly, referring to Monday.
“I think I did enough to show that I’m on the path and I’m close.”
Boettger tore his Achilles in Iowa’s Week 2 win at Iowa State last fall. Six months later, he ran a 5.30 40 with a 29.5-inch vertical jump. All of this on a 6-foot-5 ½ frame with 313 pounds of weight. Boettger said he’s about 80 percent recovered from a surgery that can take a year to get over. That was impressive.
Myers, who tried to play through an ankle injury, finally pulled the plug on his final Hawkeye season and had surgery in late October. He said he’s been back to full health for about two months, focused on Pro Day.
Myers ran a 5.46 40 and jumped 27.5 inches. He also did all the drill work.
“Today felt really good, getting back out there and moving around, doing football things again,” Myers said.
Myers admitted that quitting his sport did cross his mind. Boettger helped him get past that.
“You kind of go through that, ‘Oh, poor me. Why does this happen to me senior year?’ But then you kind of roll out of bed and you go, ‘You know what? This is my chance and I’m going to go after it,’ ” Myers said. “Then you see Ike. That’s really been big for me, because we can both grind together and lean on each other when we need to.”
It’s a crushing reality for both players that healthy senior years likely would have set them up to be potential NFL Draft picks. They’ll probably have to go the free-agent route now. Both are just waiting for interested teams to give them a call.
But the smiles they showed Monday also revealed that things could have been worse. At least they’re playing football again, side by side.
Former Iowa center James Daniels discusses his pro day, value of being a Hawkeye entering the NFL Draft. Chad Leistikow
Daniels mocks mock drafts
The other Iowa offensive lineman to work out Monday is the youngest and the most heralded. But James Daniels is keeping a level head about his status as a projected first-round draft pick despite being just 20 years old.
“It’s cool people are noticing,” Daniels said of the dozens of mock drafts out there that show him as a potential top 20 pick after three seasons as a Hawkeye center. “They really don’t mean anything. … Once they call my name on the real draft, it will mean a lot more.”
Daniels has not yet been invited to attend the draft in Dallas but said he'd love to take his parents and two brothers along for the show.
Daniels ran through position drills Monday but didn’t do any of the measurable tests. His results at the Combine were among the best of the weekend, so there was no need to try to improve on them.
In the meantime, he waits for the draft and tries to ignore all of his notifications on Instagram and Twitter.
“If it says mock draft, just don’t click on it — that’s probably the easiest way,” Daniels said with a smile. “If you don’t click on it, you don’t see it.”
Former Iowa defensive tackle Nathan Bazata discusses his Pro Day performance in Iowa City. Mark Emmert/Hawk Central
Bazata shows his mobility
Former Iowa defensive tackle Nathan Bazata was known for keeping his head down and plugging away during his college career. He’s taking the same approach to trying to land a job in the NFL.
“I’m not a Combine guy, obviously, so I’m just hoping to get to a practice and show them what I’m all about,” said Bazata, who measured 6-1 3/8 and weighed in at 290 pounds (up five from the fall season).
What is he about?
“Just high motor, a guy that’s not going to quit, a guy that’s going to be coachable,” Bazata said.
He ran a 5.2 40 but was most pleased to cover the initial 10 yards in 1.6 seconds. That’s the most important measurable for a defensive lineman. Bazata also completed 24 reps on the bench press. That was the most for any of the current Iowa crop, although 2016 Iowa graduate Drew Ott came back to town and put up 27 reps, according to information compiled by Blair Sanderson of HawkeyeReport.com.
Bazata said the Los Angeles Chargers scout who put him through his drills was impressed.
“Just my mobility from my hips down, being able to bend when I’m running and just change of direction stuff,” he said.
Bazata said his agent has been hearing from NFL teams that they could see him putting on another 20 pounds and playing nose tackle. As you would expect, he’s more than willing to do that.