With news light on the college football front (we’re still putting the pieces together for some long-form offseason features), let’s take a quick look at San Diego, where Manti Te’o‘s life as an NFL football player just got started.
Te’o debuted at rookie minicamp, where reporters and coaches got their first look at the former Notre Dame All-American, the second round draft pick of the Chargers. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, in his popular Monday Morning Quarterback column, chronicled Te’o’s first days as a professional, just a few weeks after signing a four-year rookie contract that’ll be worth an estimated $5.1 million.
While he slid a dozen picks farther down the draft than most expected, Te’o’s still projected to be an immediate plug and play player for the Chargers. Here’s a snippet of King take on the Chargers new inside linebacker, now sporting #50, in honor of the state of Hawaii.
San Diego coach Mike McCoy told me Sunday, after the rookie minicamp, that the staff expects Te’o to be an every-down linebacker. He said Te’o will take his place as the starting Mike linebacker — the strongside ‘backer in San Diego’s 3-4 defense, alongside veteran Donald Butler — in team drills when OTAs begin. “Our plan is for him to play three downs, and when we scouted him, we believed that’s what he’d be,” McCoy said. “But he’ll have to earn that, obviously. We’re going to play the best guys, and if he’s the best guy on all three downs, he’ll be in there.”
What he told reporters last week won’t surprise those who knew him well at Notre Dame when the subject of dealing with the veterans came up. It was the right answer. “You’ve just got to keep your head down,” Te’o said. “Know you’re a rookie. Keep your head down, keep your head in the playbook. Work hard. Obviously, you’ve got to earn the respect of the veterans. That will come in time. But with what I’m going to do with my work ethic, that will come soon.”
Local media reported that there was five times as many reporters on hand for rookie minicamp than ever before, with all eyes on Te’o. The NFL Network sent Alex Flanagan, no stranger to Te’o, and while it’s tough to gather too much from a rookie working out with other rookies in helmets and shorts, Te’o was reportedly at the front of every line and leading the way.
That’s the best way for Te’o to work his way out of a Tebow-like celebrity spotlight and back into the role of football player. He may not ever be anonymous, but Te’o sounds smart enough to know he’s got to earn the respect of his teammates first.