If nothing else, the Cleveland Browns knew Nate Wieting had desire.
He had hundreds of pounds of weight-training equipment delivered to his residence in Iowa City to stay in shape for an NFL call he wasn’t sure would come until the Browns agreed to a deal with him last Saturday.
After finishing his University of Iowa football career last December, the senior tight end caught a pass in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 20. He trained diligently through mid-March as the Hawkeyes’ annual Pro Day approached.
That was scratched when the university was shut down on March 17 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, six days before Pro Day. Since he hadn’t been invited to the NFL Combine, Wieting had no in-person contact with NFL personnel.
“It was kind of a sad feeling not being able to show what I’ve got for NFL scouts after training for two or three months,” Wieting said this week. “They had to evaluate me solely off film. They did FaceTime and Zoom interviews to see how I think and operate.”
Iowa has quite the reputation in the NFL when it comes to tight ends, courtesy of many successful players from the not-so-distant past and current players George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant.
Wieting walked on at Iowa. Injuries slowed his career. He had surgeries to a shoulder, knee and foot. He played 11 games last season, though, starting nine. He had 10 catches for 117 yards. His blocking made him valuable in the Hawkeyes’ running game.
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Why wouldn’t an NFL team at least look at a tight end who was nurtured in Iowa’s system, right? That’s what the Browns may have thought Saturday when they snapped up Wieting after he went undrafted.
“I had talked to a handful of teams, six to eight,” Wieting said. “The Browns reached out. I think I really hit it off with their coach. They’ve carried up to four tight ends on their roster and use a lot of ‘12’ personnel, with two tight ends on the field, frequently.
“They run a lot of bootlegs and play-action, things that fit for me.”
The uncertainty of whether there was an NFL team in Wieting’s future is replaced by the uncertainty of when he’ll get to Ohio to actually throw blocks and run routes.
“It’s tough, for sure,” he said. “There aren’t minicamps or OTAs (organized team activities). I won’t have the chance to get on the field until July or whenever. I have to be ready to go, have to be in shape and put my best foot forward.”
Wieting got some help from his father and one of his former football coaches at Lutheran High School in Rockford, Ill., Henry Robison.
“He’s the athletics director at Lutheran now,” Wieting said. “We asked if we could use some of their weights. My dad went to the high school in Rockford, got some weights, and loaded them up in his pickup truck and dropped them off to me. It was probably 500 pounds of weights, dumbbells, plates and a bar.”
A makeshift weight room was set up in the garage of Wieting’s residence.
Wieting has been training there with Hawkeye teammates Brady Ross and Keegan Render. Fullback Ross was a senior last season. Render was a rookie offensive lineman with the Philadelphia Eagles in the second half of last season as a member of their practice squad.
Now there’s more incentive for Wieting to attack those weights in his garage and driveway.
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“Last week,” he said, “the whole week I was wondering what would happen, if I would have a shot in the NFL.”
Last year, Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann was undrafted and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Now he has a Super Bowl ring after making two tackles in that game.
Hawkeyes who get signed apparently are hard to cut. Render, Jake Gervase, Ross Reynolds, Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse also were 2018 Hawkeye seniors who were undrafted the following spring but spent the season on an NFL active roster or practice squad.
So when Wieting says “I’m going to try to make the most of his opportunity,” he knows the goal is attainable.
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