Dual Action - Andrew Means Prepared for NFL Combine
Feb. 19, 2009
If you ask most IU fans to name the best Hoosier athletes of the young 21st century who have moved onto the professional ranks, it wouldn't take long for them to put together a list. Eric Gordon would be on it along with D.J. White, Jared Jeffries, James Hardy, Antwaan Randle-El, Bracey Wright and a host of soccer players. That list, however, is missing the name of the Hoosier whose pursuit of his professional sports dreams could set him apart from the rest.
That's fine with Andrew Means. He's not a player who has spent a lot of time in the spotlight during his Hoosier career, but he has the opportunity to pull off one of the rarest feats in athletics -- becoming a professional in two different sports.
Means has already played for pay, spending last summer in Montana working in the Cincinnati Reds' farm system after being selected in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball draft. He hit .231 with a double, a triple and three home runs with the Billings Mustangs, but he decided to return to play football in Bloomington last fall with the hopes of helping the Hoosiers return to a bowl game while also pumping up his NFL stock.
Unfortunately, Indiana didn't return to the postseason, and the wide receiver's numbers actually took a bit of a hit. After making 48 catches for 559 yards as a redshirt sophomore in 2007, Means made just 34 catches for 450 yards and a touchdown in 2008. He finished his career as just one of 14 players in IU history to make more than 100 catches, but he didn't get the bump in notoriety that he hoped. Despite that fact, Means still declared himself eligible for the NFL draft, a move that was unexpected.
The gamble paid off with Means receiving an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis Feb. 19-22. Means says he put plenty of thought into his decision, and he isn't approaching the opportunity lightly.
"If you ask anybody, they're going to say, `He just did it to see what would happen, just for the hell of it,' Means says. "But I knew all along that I definitely could play in the NFL, and I wasn't really showing that at IU. It wasn't because I wasn't getting the touches or the team wasn't doing too well. Things just weren't going my way (when it came to putting up big numbers). I always knew I had the potential to do what I'm doing now. Going through the whole process through my agent, we talked to a bunch of different teams, and I was on their radar. They saw me as a prospect so I went ahead with it and declared.
"I found out I got an invite to the Combine, but it was a little nerve-wracking because I was a junior coming out early, and juniors have to wait a lot longer to get their Combine invite than the seniors. They have to wait until after Jan. 17 to see who is going to pull their name out. It was a little nerve-wracking, but it paid off in the long run."
The 215-pound Means is training for his NFL shot at Ignition Athletics in Cincinnati, a sport-specific training center that features a program designed to help NFL prospects prepare for the Combine. Means has been working on improving his speed, his strength and his fundamentals in the weeks leading up to the Combine.
"I'm training with Clif Marshall," Means says. "He was a strength coach with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he still does that part-time. He devotes all of his time to Ignition, and we're training close to 13 guys right now from all over the place.
They're all training for the same purpose. Some are going to the Combine. Some are training for their Pro Day. I'm just working here, doing two workouts a day, and I'm working on all kinds of stuff. I'm working on the things I'm going to be doing at the Combine. We're doing a lot of receiver drills. It keeps me in shape right now, but I'm not going to be in football shape as I get ready for the Combine."
Means is gambling a bit with his baseball career. He is scheduled to report to spring training with the Reds in March, one day after Indiana holds its Pro Day for NFL scouts. Means won't be in baseball shape when he arrives for spring training, and the fact he hasn't been working on his baseball skills could set him back on the diamond. Means, however, says he knew he had to take a shot at living out his NFL dream, even if the Reds would prefer he focus on baseball.
"Right now, with any type of business, they want you there full time," Means says. "Obviously, I can't fault them for that. I was one of their draft picks. But they knew that going into the baseball draft, they knew I had a chance to pursue an NFL career, and they were OK with that. It's going to come to the point where I'm going to want to pick one or the other, and hopefully, that point will come soon so I can give the Reds or a football team a clearer picture.
"As of right now, I'm 100 percent committed to football and pursing my career in the NFL. That's what I've been telling all the scouts. I couldn't be more excited to pursue this part of my athletic career. I've already pursued baseball, and I can't wait to get back to that if it comes to it. But right now, I'm pursing the NFL 100 percent."
Actually getting to the NFL could be a bit of a challenge, especially for a player who made just two touchdown catches in his college career. Although he has received the invite to the Combine, he is going to have to do something special to turn some heads.
"We know he's going to play football if he gets drafted," says one NFL scout, who asked to remain anonymous. "I think baseball is kind of a fall-back option for him. He's supposed to run in the range of a 4.45 40, and that speed is always a positive. He's going to have to wow some people, and it's always good to get kids into the Combine just to let the doctors pick him apart. He could go late (in the draft), but he had nothing to lose by declaring himself. He's a low-risk, high-reward guy."
Means doesn't mind arriving at the Combine with little notoriety. In fact, he almost prefers it that way.
"Just going through my whole athletic career, I've been under the radar," Means says. "I was under the radar for the Major League Baseball draft, and now it's the same for the National Football League. That's just a part of my life. I'm always under the radar. People never think I can do the things I've been doing, and I'm just enjoying proving people wrong. That's sort of how I've approached my sporting career so far up to this point."
Means might have spent more time in the spotlight had the Hoosiers enjoyed a better season on the gridiron last fall. Means' numbers sagged mostly for reasons that were out of his control. Injuries to the offensive line provided less time for the junior to get open on pass routes, and a rotation at quarterback between Kellen Lewis and Ben Chappell led to inconsistencies in the offense.
Inconsistency wasn't a problem for Means, and it never has been. He had one of the best set of hands on the team, and he has repeatedly been willing and able to make catches in traffic. In 2006 vs. Ball State, Means, then a redshirt freshman, made a catch in the middle of the field and was plastered by a Cardinals defender. He was knocked unconscious, but he held onto the ball.
"I think going back through all three of my years, I showed consistency in catching the ball," Means says. "That's something they look at. They love those tall, athletic guys who can do all those amazing things, but they want to see consistency when the ball is being caught, how you catch the ball -- do you use your hands or do you catch the ball with your body -- and I definitely showed my ability to use my speed on the field in running past DBs. I did that plenty of times this year when our team was at full strength. I showed them my ability, my speed, my consistency and being a good teammate. I think those are great traits that NFL scouts will look at. They're going to see my Combine times, and hopefully, they are going to see some good things."
Means is hoping he can be a "workout warrior" at the Combine, a player who jumps ahead of the pack by putting up impressive numbers in the different workouts the players go through. He hopes a good Combine will convince scouts that he could put up better numbers at the pro level.
"That's my whole approach," Means says. "My numbers do not show at all what I'm capable of doing. Me and (receivers coach) Billy Lynch always talked about it in the office that if they could have gotten me the ball like they did with (James) Hardy, I could have done the same types of things because I'm consistent with my hands, I can get open and I can get separation from DBs. I'm confident I could have done the same types of things (as Hardy). Granted, he has some freakish characteristics no one else has that make him so effective in the red zone. I'm a different type of receiver so you really can't compare us. But I think I'm one of those types of dudes whose numbers don't show what type of receiver I am. That's why I'm so excited to show the scouts what I can do over the next couple of months."
Another NFL scout said he sees Means as a copy of Dane Looker, a possession receiver with the St. Louis Rams, who has been consistent during his eight-year NFL career.
"Means is a guy who doesn't look fast, but he is," the scout says. "If you look at Looker, he doesn't blow you away with any one thing he does but when you need a first down, you can throw it to Looker and he's going to get the catch and keep a drive alive. That's what I see in Means. Plus, he has a big body. He could be a breakout guy, someone who gets a shot and makes it tough to get rid of because he just makes plays."
Means sees himself in the mold of a different NFL player, one who actually was a childhood friend.
"It's funny, because I know Anthony Gonzalez with the Indianapolis Colts," Means says. "We grew up together. I don't spend too much time talking to him now, but just growing up together and living across the street from each other and playing football in the front yard together, it's a little awkward to think that he's in the league right now. He's basically the same type of receiver I mold myself to be. I've been told I do everything just like him. He's already in the league and has proven himself, and I'm yet to get to that point. But I feel as a receiver, I'm definitely capable of doing the type of stuff he does. That's who I model myself after." Means' former teammates Hardy and Tracy Porter went through the Combine process last season, and both were drafted in the second round last season. Means plans on leaning on Hardy and Porter to try to wring out any bit of information he can about what he will face going forward.
"James probably has changed his cell number five times by now so I'm still trying to find the right one," Means says. "I talked to Tracy a little bit but nothing in-depth about (the Combine). It's going to be coming up soon so I'm going to try to buckle down and get as much information as I can to help me out."
The IU coaching staff has been helpful to Means already, putting him in contact with the right people and making sure he is set on the right path as the draft approaches. Means is thankful for the support he has gotten from the Hoosier family.
"The IU coaching staff is young and smart," Means says. "As a team, we're under the radar and so are those coaches. They're capable of so many good things that people don't know about. I can't wait for what they bring to IU football for the future. It will be really exciting. They just have so many resources, and they work so hard for you. They know all the right people to talk to, and Coach (Joe) Palcic talks to all the scouts. He takes care of all that business for you so you can concentrate on football. He does such a good job with all that. He makes sure you're at the right place and fill out the right paperwork to do the right thing. He helped me out so much in this process. Bill Lynch and Billy Lynch did such a great job. They talk to the scouts every day. Scouts call them and ask Billy about me. They all do their own little part in this process, and I can't thank them enough for it."
Despite the fact the Hoosiers didn't enjoy the season Means hoped they would last year and his stats didn't blow-up, he doesn't regret coming back to play football last fall. If anything, he believes it just gives him more of an opportunity to surprise the NFL brass with his skills.
"There were a lot of inconsistencies this year with the football team, but those things happen," Means says. "Obviously, it hurts your draft stock, but that isn't something I was worrying about then. I had a great time coming back to play football for IU so I have no complaints there. Everything was good. But as everyone knows, when your team has a bad year or you don't have the year you were expecting, people aren't going to look at you as highly. That's what the next couple of months are for, to show the scouts what you can do. I'm excited to go."
-written and contributed by Inside Indiana Magazine editor-in-chief Ken Bikoff
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