Throughout last season, Alex Means would make a pitch to the Air Force coaches: He wanted to move from his outside linebacker position to play defensive end on passing downs.
This year, the Falcons’ staff took him up on his offer, going with Means as a fourth defensive linemen when they used a nickel defense with five defensive backs. The change looked brilliant in the season opener against South Dakota. Means had two sacks and a few quarterback pressures.
Outside linebacker and pass rush end aren’t that different. Means might move up a few inches, over a couple feet and use a three-point stance instead of standing up. But with that small tweak, Means looked like a new weapon for the defense.
“I was begging the coaches to get down there on the nickel package and try to help the team out best I can with pass rush,” Means said. “I get to do it this year, and I’m loving it.”
Air Force has been working Means as a part-time defensive end during camp, hoping that a fourth defensive lineman would help the pass rush. Against South Dakota, the Falcons had six sacks.
The Falcons need an effective pass rush Saturday against TCU. For all the things the Horned Frogs did poorly in a 50-48 loss to Baylor, they did an excellent job protecting the quarterback. Quarterback Casey Pachall, making his first start, attempted 39 passes and wasn’t sacked . Most of those attempts with TCU trailing and Baylor knowing the Horned Frogs were going to pass. Still, the Bears couldn’t get to Pachall.
“It would be nice to get some pressure and see if we can get some interceptions on the back end,” Means said.
Means will be a key component of that pass rush effort. He worked as a rush end when he was at the prep school, so he had a little experience when he started working as an end in the offseason. Still, he admits he has a long way to go. The coaches saw some natural ability when they made the switch.
“He has a longer body, which is to his advantage when you’re going against some of the bigger guys in the conference,” outside linebackers coach Matt Weikert said. “The length and the athletic ability were two things that stuck out, that we thought he’d be a good addition, putting his hand down and seeing if we could get more pressure on the quarterback.”
Through one game, Means couldn’t be happier with the additional responsibility.
“I love being able to get in there and get in the quarterback’s face and cause some havoc,” Means said. “Anything you can do to help the team out.”