SAN DIEGO » Manti Te’o is just one of the guys.
He’s confident he can be a three-down linebacker in the NFL.
It takes some serious leverage to play against tight end Antonio Gates.
Being drafted by the San Diego Chargers has put the former Notre Dame star in a “perfect place” because of the support from those in the organization.
Oh, and Te’o and some friends “just chilled and had a good time” last month in Hollywood at a party hosted by Maxim magazine, which included Te’o’s fake girlfriend on its list of the world’s 100 hottest women.
Kept largely off limits since the draft by rookie head coach Mike McCoy, Te’o was allowed to speak with reporters for the first time in more than a month as the Chargers opened minicamp today.
Questions about football outnumbered the ones about the fallout from him being the target of a hoax involving a fake girlfriend.
Te’o, the 2009 Punahou School graduate from Laie, said he’s had no problem putting behind him the issues that dogged him since they surfaced in January.
“When we’re out on the football field, everything else doesn’t matter,” he said. “Thankfully for me, I’m surrounded by a bunch of teammates who have really pushed me to be better. All they care about is that No. 50 is working his butt off. I’ll take care of the work ethic part and for them, they just make sure that I’m going in the right direction. Personally, that hasn’t been difficult at all.
“We have a saying in the defensive room: ‘Keep the main thing the main thing.’ I’m here to play football. I’m here to be the best Charger I can be and I’m not going to let anything get in the way of that. We’ll keep the main thing the main thing.”
The last time Te’o was allowed to speak with reporters was on May 10 during rookie minicamp.
Since then the team has had several weeks of organized team activities, which are basically practices in helmets, shorts and jerseys, but no pads. Minicamp is the same thing, with no pads until training camp.
Te’o said the biggest difference between college and the NFL is technique.
“The speed, there are guys that are faster, but for the most part, speed isn’t the biggest thing,” he said. “It’s how everybody is technically sound. For young guys you’ve just got to learn. You can’t just run off blocks, you can’t just run through a hole. You’ve got to use techniques when you do the simple things. It’s those guys who are great at this game who have mastered those little things.”
There were questions before the draft about whether Te’o could handle being a three-down linebacker, including passing situations.
“Yeah, it’s very exciting for me,” said Te’o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up. “I have confidence in my ability to be a three-down linebacker. For me to go against guys out here like Antonio Gates, who’s a future Hall of Famer, and compete with him every day, is only going to get me better.”
The rookie said going up against Gates is “very difficult. With Antonio Gates, not only does he run crisp routes, but he changes it up on you. He changes his get-offs and he changes the way he comes out of his breaks. And so for a defender you’ve always got to play him honest. You’ve always got to keep your feet moving. You’ve always got to win with leverage. … As each day goes by I’m getting better at it.”
Quarterback Philip Rivers said Te’o is “one of the guys. He hasn’t been treated differently than any of the other guys, He hasn’t acted any differently than any of the other guys. He’s acted himself. He’s lived up to everything thus far that I think is expected of him, both on the field and off.”
Actually, Te’o was the only Chargers player kept away from the media.
“Coach and the organization had a plan for me,” Te’o said. “That plan was to prepare me the best way for the season. We’re out here for football. I think that’s the bottom line. The plan was for me to focus on football, focus on getting my head in the playbook and just trying to make that transition as quickly as possible. I definitely have reaped the benefits of that and am thankful that I’ve had the time to just focus on the plays and focus on what goes on on the field. That has definitely helped me improve each day.”
Te’o said the biggest thing he’s learned from the veterans is to “just come in and work hard. The worst thing you can do is be somebody that they have to push. And so for me, one of the strengths has always been my work ethic.”