Bub Means can’t give any specifics, he’s not at liberty to say exactly why he’s so confident in the Pitt offense this season, but he is ready to show you exactly why he’s so confident.
“It’s gonna be a new dynamic offense, and I’m looking forward to putting on a show for y’all,” Means said after practice Tuesday, his signature grin flashing as he stood at the podium in the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Means feels like a brand-new man this season. He’s a year older, a year wiser and — most importantly — he’s comfortable. He feels way more comfortable playing as the X receiver in Pitt’s offense this season. And as he’s immersed himself in what Frank Cignetti Jr. expects out of his wide receivers, it’s only led to increased synergy with the quarterbacks and wide receivers as a whole.
There was a disconnect between the quarterback and the wide receiver’s last season. Phil Jurkovec’s prior experience in a Cignetti offense, when coupled with his ability to make unscripted plays with his legs, has the entire offense feeling brand new.
“I just feel like we got a little bit more comfortable at quarterback right now, so I feel like (Cignetti will) let our quarterback make a little more plays of his own,” Means said. “So, I feel like our offense — it won’t be that much different because we’re still gonna make big plays in the running game, but other than that, those big plays that come from the outside, the run game is gonna open that up. Last year, I feel like our run game opened it up, and we didn’t take the opportunities. This year, the run game is gonna open up the big plays, and we’re gonna take the big shots, too.”
Means wouldn’t say there’s an emphasis on the deep ball this season though. But just based on what the coaching staff has drawn up, and the expectation of the offense executing this season, he’s confident fans will see a very explosive offense.
It would be hard to say that Means could’ve had a better offseason at this point. He took a step forward in the spring as he stepped up to fill a leadership vacancy left by Jared Wayne’s departure, and he backed it up all throughout the summer as he flashed his big-play potential — and continued leadership in the receivers room.
And his impact will not just be limited to his role as Pitt’s starting X receiver. He’s finally convinced the Pitt coaching staff that he’s able to make an impact at kick returner — and there wasn’t a shot that the Pitt coaching staff would be able to pull him off his gunner duties in punt coverage.
“(The coaches are) trying to get the playmakers the ball, that’s what I see,” Means said, with another broad smile. “Me and my dawg (A.J. Woods) back there, they’re trying to get the playmakers the ball, and that’s all that matters to me.”
You can be certain that Means asked the Pitt coaching staff for a chance to return kickoffs. But when he asked Andre Powell in the spring, he was brushed off. He was told that Pitt needed him at receiver. Powell finally doubled back over the summer, inserting Means as a kick returner and liking what he saw. In Means’ eyes, it’s been nothing but good reps since he took over.
“I’m trying to get on all the special teams, everything,” Means said. “I didn’t care if they put me at off returner, I just wanted to help the team, and they just happened to put me back deep. I’m just nothing but grateful and appreciative.
“I want to go and show I can make a play on punts as well. I want to be able to contribute in all phases of the game. Special teams, offense, even if you want to throw me back there at linebacker and safety if you want. Whatever I need to do to help the team, I wanna do it.”
So, you can slot Means into three starting spots. He’s the starting X wideout. He’s the starting kick returner. And he’s the starting gunner in punt coverage. It would be difficult to find many starting wide receivers across the college football landscape who accept special teams roles this season, and it would be that much harder to find those guys who actively seek those roles out.
The Pitt coaching staff sees the way Means approaches practice every single day. It’s night and day from where he was a year ago, when he was trying to figure out his place in the offense.
“(Bub’s) positive, he brings great energy,” Cignetti said earlier this month. “We saw it right away in the spring, he was coaching the perimeter. Not only does he have leadership, but he has knowledge. He understands the system, not only what to do but how to do it. The fundamentals and techniques.”
Cignetti has seen how Means has grown just since the Sun Bowl. He had a great week of preparation, a great game itself and carried that over to his offseason prep.
In the Sun Bowl, Means caught four balls for 84 yards and a touchdown — easily his best performance in a Pitt jersey. In his first season at Pitt, he caught 27 balls for 401 yards (14.9 yards per reception) and two touchdowns in 13 games, but the big-play deep threat was inconsistent at best, and he caught just four of 10 contested catches, according to PFF.
But Means showcased a comfortability as early as the spring, putting in 14 strong spring practices. And he capped it off with a solid performance in the spring game. Working with the 1s, against the 2s on defense, to be fair, Means caught two passes for 39 yards.
He flashed the gloves on a nice throw from Jurkovec on a scoring drive, leaping up and snagging the ball out of the air for an 18-yard gain on a quick dig.
Jurkovec gave him a chance to go up and grab it. Means came down with it. He got himself open a few plays earlier, creating a pocket of space and hauling in a 21-yard gain along the sideline.
“Bub is just so aggressive with the ball,” Jurkovec said after the spring game. “I think any time the ball is in there, you trust that he’s going to go and attack it, so that’s what you love to see as a quarterback. You’re able to give him some of those 50/50 balls, and there’s a good chance that he comes down with it.”
Means ran a nice fade route in the first quarter of the spring game, but he was unable to make a play as Stephon Hall played the deep ball from Jurkovec perfectly, knocking the ball away as it arrived. And that deep ball opportunity has only gotten strong as Means has built rapport with Jurkovec throughout the summer.
“Mentally, second year in the offense, Bub has taken off,” Tiquan Underwood said earlier this month. “He’s doing great, not a lot of mental errors at all. Him and Konata Mumpfield have definitely taken on more of a leadership role with the departure of Jared Wayne, who was our leader last year. And it’s been great to see Bub and Konata more vocal with the guys.”
In his second season in Pitt’s offense, it’s his comfortability that has allowed him to take that next step — both on and off the field. It’s Means’ preparation that marks the difference from where he is this season compared to where he was last season.
“I was preparing last year, but this year I feel like — last year I might’ve got 100 catches after practice, this year I’m trying to get 200, 300,” Means said. “The way I prepare is different, that’s why I’m more comfortable now. … We’re throwing the ball deep, so I’ve got to be able to make plays every time, no matter the kind of ball it is, I can’t blame nothing on the quarterback, if you throw it my way, I have to go get it. I have to get the catches, I have to get the repetition, I have to get the reps with the quarterbacks.”
Means’ growth over the offseason has been one of the most impactful things to happen to Pitt over the last nine months. He was up-and-down in his first season at Pitt, flashing more so toward the end of the season, and he will be needed in a big way — on and off the field — if Pitt’s offense is to reach its expected heights this season.
“He’s been here a full year now and look how he’s grown — not as a player but as a person in coach Narduzzi’s program here,” Cignetti said.
Means headlines a wide receiving corps that features Konata Mumpfield and Daejon Reynolds, with Kenny Johnson, Zion Fowler-El and Jake McConnachie offering immediate depth, but it will be Means’ continued growth that really unlocks this offense this season — and that impact will, of course, extend to special teams, too.