ADVERTISEMENT

So much has changed since the last time the University at Buffalo played Kent State, including Steven Means' approach to the game.

Back in 2009, Means was a disruptive force at defensive end, flying around while playing on adrenaline and natural ability. That was before a coaching change and a shift in defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

There's no flying around as a 3-4 end when you're matched up one-on-one against tackles who outweigh you by 100 pounds. The statistics that dropped hints of great potential as a freshman were reduced to pedestrian for Means in the last two seasons as he adjusted to a new role.

"I was definitely disappointed and I'd grade myself a 'D,' " Means said.

Now a fifth-year senior, Means has become more of a student, content on playing his part in the system and allowing the game to come to him.

"I would be the first to admit that I was being selfish toward the team by not doing my job," said Means, the former Grover Cleveland standout, who has 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks. "I was trying to get in every gap to make plays and not being in the position I should have been to make my plays. I'm listening to my coach more, being in my position to make plays more."

As a sophomore, Means led all Bulls linemen in tackles for a loss with 11 and 4.5 sacks but those numbers dipped to 3.5 and 2.5 last season.

"It hasn't been easy," UB coach Jeff Quinn said. "He had to go through a coaching change, endure some tough seasons but be able to step up and show this team that he's someone to lean on in terms of his quality of leadership."

Means earned a reputation as being unblockable in practice as a true freshman in 2008 and because the Bulls were so inept at putting pressure on the quarterback, then coach Turner Gill nearly tossed aside Means redshirt season and put the youngster on the field. He didn't disappoint the following year.

The last two seasons have been spent learning he couldn't be the carefree Means of '08 and '09. It was time to bulk up, mature and shoulder a new role in a different structure.

"The light came on when I realized I wasn't making plays," said Means, who is now 250 pounds. "I wasn't making any plays and I wasn't getting into position to make the type of plays I wanted to make. I was in a position to make them as far as I saw, but when I went over it with the coach he would explain to me, 'Ok, this is where you're supposed to be and if you were here, you would be one step closer to making a play.' "

There's a distinction between playing a 4-3 scheme at defensive end and a 3-4. The job of a 4-3 end is to get to the quarterback and create pressure, which Means did well as a 220-pound redshirt freshmen. Ends in a 3-4 tend to be bigger and their primary job is to control run gaps while absorbing blockers. Meanwhile active linebackers, like Khalil Mack, tend to pile up numbers.

It's not coincidental that Means' sack totals have decreased each of the last three seasons. Last season the Pittsburgh Steelers, who led the NFL in defense and play a 3-4, were paced in sacks by linebacker James Harrison.

"It was hard for me at first being as light as I was," Means said. "I was in the three technique some of the time and getting double-teamed, but it's all attitude now. I'm still over the tackle or inside the tackle some of the time but it's all attitude.

"The 4-3 defense is a defense where I fit in the most, but as long as I my attitude is good about playing wherever the coaches want me to play, I'll be all right."





email: rmckissic@buffnews.com