The NFL will descend on Indianapolis this week, with the first big step in NFL Draft preparations taking place for the 32 member clubs, as they get their chance to poke and prod 333 college prospects. For many eligible draft players, they’ve spent the days since their college careers ended training for the annual cattle call, working on drill specific skills, trying their best to shave away hundredths of a second on their forty times, or working on broad jumps or three-cone shuttle runs that don’t always translate to the football field.
No NFL prospect has had a more adventurous post-season run than Manti Te’o, who has seen his reputation take quite a hit both on and off the field, courtesy of his underwhelming performance against Alabama and the revelation of the hoax surrounding Te’o’s long-distance girlfriend Lennay Kekua.
While Te’o made the obligatory media rounds, talking to ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap and Katie Couric, he’ll know have a chance to tell NFL team’s his side of the story, making him one of two athletes with the most at stake at the combine, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.
Here’s what King had to say about Te’o in today’s Monday Morning Quarterback column:
Manti Te’o. The Notre Dame linebacker has spent a lot of time practicing football and practicing what he’s going to say to teams. His last game, against Alabama, was a nightmare (he was awful, and overpowered), and then the whole fake girlfriend story came up, making him a national story and, in some quarters, a national joke. It won’t matter much how he works out in Indianapolis. What will matter are the 15-minute interviews he’ll have in formal evening sessions with teams, and in less formal settings, seeing coaches and personnel people at the stadium and around his hotel.
King puts Te’o in the same category as former Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, who was suspended four games this season for failing a drug test and was arrested for DUI last week in Arizona, where he’s preparing for the draft.
Perhaps King hasn’t had a chance to interact with Te’o, because there’s little doubt that the former Irish linebacker will come out of meetings with teams impressing. If the concerns are strictly off the field for Te’o, then it’ll be an easy week for the All-American, who handled the aftermath of the hoax revelation about as well as you could expect the most seasoned political operative, not to mention a 21-year-old kid.
Maybe his body of work over four seasons is enough, but if you’re looking for news from Te’o this week, keep an eye on his measureables. After struggling against Alabama’s massive defensive front, it’s important for Te’o to look the part of an elite inside linebacker, putting up numbers physically that match his productivity over the past four seasons.
While Te’o is listed as 6-foot-2, 255-pounds in Notre Dame’s program, it’ll be interesting to see if he measures that tall at the combine. I’d also expect to see Te’o weigh in a little lighter, with a more sculpted frame helping the linebacker look quick and athletic during the agility and speed portions of the testing.
It’s hard to understand how a linebacker that was part of an elaborate and sick catfishing deception has as much to prove as a guy that’s failed a drug test and can’t stay out of trouble even while preparing for the biggest job interview of his life. But that’s the flip-side of the attention Te’o received all season, where the linebacker finished second in the Heisman Trophy race after leading Notre Dame to a national championship game appearance.