Iowa Football

Josh Jackson, Ben Niemann rep Iowa defense well in NFL preseason

Rookies had pick-6s (a Hawkeyes thing last year) in consecutive nights

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Ben Niemann (56), a rookie from Iowa, returns an interception 26 yards for a touchdown in the Chiefs’ 28-14 preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons last Friday in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports)
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Ben Niemann (56), a rookie from Iowa, returns an interception 26 yards for a touchdown in the Chiefs’ 28-14 preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons last Friday in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports)

You can’t call it irony.

No, the fact rookies from Iowa returned interceptions for touchdowns in two NFL preseason games last week is anything but ironic. Fitting, yes.

Josh Jackson went all pick-six for the Green Bay Packers last Thursday night, giving him three of those in the state of Wisconsin within the last 10 months. Jackson had a 22-yard return for a score in Green Bay’s 51-34 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field.

“It’s film study, man,” Jackson said about his interception against the Steelers. “I’ve seen that exact play from watching film. I knew [the interception] was coming, just by the down and distance.” Those quotes came from this story. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t step out of bounds. I was trying to score. It was my mama’s birthday, so I told her I was going to get one for her,” Jackson said. “Half-joking” noted the story’s author.

Jackson had two interception returns for scores against Wisconsin in Madison last November, accounting for all his team’s points in that defeat. They were two of his nation-high eight interceptions, two of Iowa’s four interception returns for TDs, and two of the Hawkeyes’ nation-high 21 INTs.

The other Iowa pick-sixes were Brandon Snyder against Illinois and Amani Hooker on Ohio State’s first offensive play in its 55-24 loss to the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium.

Jackson, by the way, also had a 41-yard punt return for the Packers. He returned five punts for the Hawkeyes last year, averaging 7.2 yards.

A night after Jackson did what Jackson does, undrafted free agent-signee/linebacker Ben Niemann returned a pick 26 yards for a score for the Kansas City Chiefs in their 28-14 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Niemann was one of 10 Hawkeyes who had interceptions last season. He played with the Chiefs’ second-team defense Friday. He was involved in four tackles.

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“I just dropped back and saw the quarterback looking at the running back,” Niemann said about his INT. “He overthrew and gave me a gift right there.”

Meanwhile, veteran defensive end Adrian Clayborn set up a New England Patriots touchdown when he strip-sacked Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. Patriots rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley returned the fumble 55 yards for a touchdown.

Pro Football Focus put Clayborn, Jackson and Niemann on its NFL Team of the Week.

Clayborn is in his eighth NFL season, but his first with New England. The Patriots have five ex-Hawkeyes on their roster. The others are offensive linemen Cole Croston, James Ferentz and Matt Tobin, and wide receiver Riley McCarron.

Here’s a (Quincy, Mass.) Patriot Ledger story about Tobin, from Dyersville Beckman High School and the hamlet of Worthington, Iowa. The story details how Tobin and Clayborn now go against each other in practice, like they did at Iowa when Clayborn was an All-Big Ten player and Tobin was a walk-on.

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