A ‘Means’ to an End
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The 2017 Philadelphia Eagles have an opportunity to put the punctuation on a 14-win season Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, something that has never happened before in the history of the franchise.
Whether the Eagles get to that elusive number in what is essentially a meaningless game or simply finish with 13 wins and the No. 1 seed in the NFC, it's been quite the successful campaign for Doug Pederson and Co.
And the headliners are obvious whether it's the now injured Carson Wentz, along with Pro Bowl selections like Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks on the offensive side of the ball, or the stalwarts on defense like Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins.
Really good teams have significant role players as well, however. Those who are rarely seen or thought about but contribute every day to the team's success.
With this Eagles' team that defines Steven Means, the little-used defensive end who has been active in only five games this season and played in only 14 total defensive snaps but has somehow managed to become one of the more respected members of the team's locker room.
“He’s one of the most respected players on our team,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said earlier this season, “and there’s going to come a time where he’s going to have to play a big part in what we do. He already has, but I’m talking about on Sundays].”
Means' "big part in what we do" is a nod to an unrelenting work ethic that makes others around him better, perhaps best exemplified by the words of two of the Eagles' stars: Johnson, who goes against Means every day in practice, and Graham, who plays alongside the Buffalo product and feeds of his relentlessness as a player.
“If he ever gets a chance [to play regularly] I think he’ll turn some heads," Johnson said. "He’s a big reason why I've improved to this point."
The trademark of Graham's All-Pro resume, meanwhile, is the energy he brings to the field on game days but at the NovaCare Complex, the always exuberant Graham is often in second place when it comes to setting the tone for the defensive line.
"Man, Means brings it every day," Graham told 973espn.com earlier this season. "Sometimes when I'm not feeling it, I look over to Means and I say I need some of your energy."
The quintessential scout-team player, Means has embraced trying to make everyone better.
"It means a lot," the soft-spoken Means said when told about the compliments of his star teammates. "God gave me this opportunity and it's my job to do the most I can with it."
There is a cliche at all levels of football that has launched a cottage industry with T-shirt providers nationwide: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
Perhaps nothing better describes Means.
He's in the NFL and was a former fifth-round pick so there is plenty of talent but when compared to the pedigrees of some of the people he's working with -- players like Graham, Vinny Curry, rookie first-round pick Derek Barnett and proven veteran Chris Long -- his physical skill set lags behind so Means makes sure he is driving the pace car when it comes to effort.
For Means, the opportunities to get himself and his teammates better arrive each and every day.
The difference is you are about to see it on Sunday. With Graham nursing an ankle injury and ruled out, Means is sure to see plenty of playing time against the Cowboys.
So don't be surprised when you see No. 51 flashing in the Dallas backfield.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen