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Panthers Shocked By Means’ Release

October 26, 2000

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ It took half the season before Carolina rookie Brad Hoover learned about the cold, hard business side of football.

Sitting in the running backs meeting after practice Wednesday, fellow back Natrone Means was summoned out by coach George Seifert.

He never came back.

Means was waived by the Panthers, ending his short tenure with the team before he ever carried the ball for them.

``I was shocked to see the dirty end of this business,″ Hoover said Thursday. ``An established back like that and he just gets cut from right under your nose. I haven’t been around that long, so it was a little shocking. He was here, then he was gone.″

By the time the meeting was over, Means had already cleaned out his locker and was ready to leave the building. The rest of the backs barley had time to say good-bye.

``Natrone was disappointed, but I don’t think there were any hard feelings on his part,″ running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka said. ``He said he understood the decision, but he was still disappointed.″

Means, 28, was signed to a free agent contract by Carolina during the offseason and was expected to give the Panthers a powerful back to relieve Biakabutuka.

But it never developed. Means, a North Carolina native, has yet to recover from an offseason operation on his knee and was inactive for all but one of the Panthers’ seven games.

In the one game he did play, he was used as a blocker on two kickoff returns.

Seifert apparently grew tired of waiting for Means to get healthy, and probably figured he’ll never again be the back he was in 1994 when he rushed for 1,350 yards and 12 touchdowns while leading the San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl.

``He hadn’t missed a practice since training camp and he was working hard,″ Biakabutuka said. ``I guess he just ran out of time.″

Still, his release caught most of the Panthers off guard.

``I didn’t see it coming, I really didn’t,″ quarterback Steve Beuerlein said. ``But it really wasn’t looking like he was going to be able to help us on the field soon. The move is one of the rougher parts of the game.″

His release now leaves Hoover as the only runner left to back up Biakabutuka.

An undrafted rookie from Western Carolina, Hoover has survived his initial invitation to training camp and outlasted veterans Anthony Johnson and Means for a roster spot.

``I don’t think anyone would have bet on Hoover in training camp,″ Beuerlein said. ``Well, maybe someone who likes to play the long shots and likes to hit it big.″

Hoover is surprised to have made it this far. He rushed for only 33 yards on 10 carries this season, but that’s 15 more yards than starting fullback William Floyd has run for and 10 more touches than backup Michael Bates has.

``I certainly didn’t think I’d make it this far, and I still might not,″ he said. ``I may not finish the year, but I’m here now and I’m ready to fill in wherever I’m asked.″

So far that’s mostly been on special teams, but his role could grow at any time should Biakabutuka get hurt.

``He hasn’t shown if he can do it yet, but like everybody else in this league he deserves an opportunity,″ Beuerlein said. ``I really think he’s going to be a very solid player for a lot of years.″

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