Mike Niam had hoped to hear his name called Saturday night during the seventh round of the NFL Draft, and when it didn’t happen, he started waiting for calls.
“I was kind of down ’cause the draft had ended and I hadn’t gotten too much attention and time was passing,” Niam said Sunday in a phone interview. “I was just kind of getting worried.”
Niam and his fiancée, Erica Polvan, were out to dinner when the mood changed about an hour after the draft ended. The Browns reached out to Niam and his agent, Chris Gittings. By about 8:30 p.m., Niam, a Hudson High School graduate, had a tryout scheduled with his hometown team.
“I was a Browns fan [growing up],” said Niam, who starred as a linebacker at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. “I always rooted for them. I watched them every Sunday.”
The Browns invited Niam to try out while they conduct their rookie minicamp, which runs May 10-12. He’s hoping to catch on as an undrafted free agent.
“I’m just really glad that I’m getting an opportunity,” said Niam, who lives in North Carolina. “I’m going to keep working really hard, and I’m going to be ready. Hopefully I can show them that I have what it takes.”
The 6-foot-2, 243-pound Niam believes he caught the attention of the Browns during the NFL Super Regional Combine April 7-8 at Cowboys Stadium. He posted a time of 4.73 in the 40-yard dash and bench-pressed 225 pounds 25 times. Niam’s extensive experience playing inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme certainly won’t hurt his chances with the Browns, either.
“I’m dedicated to football,” Niam said. “I love the game. I’m a team guy. I have great instincts as a linebacker. I can read and react quickly. I’m a really physical player. I’m tough and smart. I can pick up schemes, and I’m going to do whatever is asked of me, including special teams. I’m just going to do whatever I can to earn a spot on the team.”
Niam, 23, has been hindered by knee injuries in the past but feels healthy and confident now. Last year, he finished his senior season with 49 tackles and earned second-team All-Southern Conference honors despite missing some time.
“I’ve had some knee injuries,” Niam said. “I don’t really feel like talking about all the details. But I’m healthy now. I’m 100 percent, and I’m ready to play.”
While Niam tries out, several other players will get chances to impress the Browns after striking deals with the team as undrafted free agents. Undrafted rookies are long shots to survive final cuts at the end of the preseason, but three — linebacker L.J. Fort, cornerback Johnson Bademosi and free safety Tashaun Gipson — made the 53-man roster last year.
“Hopefully [we made] some good decisions with the undrafted guys,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said Saturday night after the draft. “Almost every one of the really good teams in the league has some undrafted players that have gone through and contributed to the team. We view [them] as an important part of the draft as well.”
Banner said the Browns had agreements in place with 17 undrafted free agents as of Saturday night and planned to secure a couple more. The Browns will not unveil the names until all the players sign, but many prospects have announced deals via Twitter and several college athletics programs have done the same on their websites.
The Beacon Journal compiled the following unofficial list of undrafted free agents who have had deals with the Browns announced: Eastern Kentucky offensive tackle Aaron Adams, Northern Illinois wide receiver Perez Ashford, a Shaker Heights High School graduate, Stephen F. Austin cornerback Josh Aubrey, Notre Dame center Braxston Cave, Youngstown State running back Jamaine Cook, Central Arkansas wide receiver Dominique Croom, UTEP wide receiver Michael Edwards, Hawaii defensive end Paipai Falemalu, Louisiana State offensive tackle Chris Faulk, Florida International guard Caylin Hauptmann, Eastern Michigan fullback Garrett Hoskins, Utah defensive tackle Dave Kruger, Wisconsin-Platteville safety Ryan McWethy, Stephen F. Austin wide receiver Cordell Roberson, Illinois defensive end Justin Staples, Kansas State tight end Travis Tannahill, Delaware safety Kenny Tunstall and Temple offensive tackle Martin Wallace.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.