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Draft Manti Te’o? Bears should take him or leave him: Morrissey

Updated: April 25, 2013 6:40PM



I have a very good feeling and a very bad feeling about the Bears’ draft on Thursday. The very good feeling is that they’ll use their first-round pick on Manti Te’o. That’s the very bad feeling, too.

The columnist in me absolutely loves the idea of the Bears choosing the Notre Dame linebacker whose story no one could make up but did. Can you imagine the media circus that would follow him? I’d be the one with the clown horn and the squirting flower on my lapel.

The football observer in me thinks the Bears would be making a huge mistake by taking Te’o.

Whichever side you fall on, I think we can agree that it has been awfully quiet at Halas Hall — too quiet for those of us concerned the Bears are going to run into the trap of all traps with the 20th pick in the first round. They . . . wouldn’t . . . actually . . . do . . . that . . . would . . . they?

Oh, this is tailor-made for the Bears. A famous middle linebacker to replace Brian Urlacher. A product of Notre Dame, a school for which the Irish Catholic McCaskeys have an affinity. By all accounts, a nice kid with, as the football people like to say, “good character.’’

One of the concerns here is the possibility that Te’o might have charmed general manager Phil Emery out of his penny loafers during the interview process. Never mind Te’o’s subpar combine performance. Never mind the story that will never go away, how Te’o got duped in a catfish scheme that led to his falling in love with a girl he never met, publicly mourning her death and then finding out she didn’t exactly, you know, exist. Never mind his poor performance in the BCS championship game.

What an interview! What a great kid! Looks you right in the eye when he talks! You’d want him for your son!

Perhaps, but I wouldn’t want him for my middle linebacker.

Te’o is, in part, a creation of the hype that surrounds Notre Dame. Lots of us got caught up in the drama last season — the string of victories, the resurgence of Irish football and the linebacker with the sad back story.

Then two things happened:

There was no dead girlfriend.

There was an Alabama.

The Lennay Kekua saga shouldn’t disqualify Te’o from first-round consideration. That’s obvious. He was the victim of a hoax and, like any college student might, didn’t know how to get out of it when he learned the truth. But there needs to be a recognition that this will follow him on and off the field for the rest of his life. It will take a very strong person to deal with the abuse Te’o will absorb. It will take a very special team to protect him.

Again, where do I sign up to cover this?

The lack of speed from Te’o in the BCS title game against an Alabama team of future pros should give anyone pause. So should the fact that he got swallowed up by a bigger, stronger opponent.

NFL teams go on and on about the importance of strong character in players, but talent almost always wins out. A study by Hamilton College professor Stephen Wu and student Kendall Weir shows that college players with character issues (criminal incidents, team suspensions, etc.) were picked about 15 spots later in the draft than “clean” players with similar college stats and combine performances. But once in the NFL, the troubled players outperformed the players who had no history of legal troubles, the study shows.

It means your standard-issue GM probably smiles at the opportunity to get a talented, flawed human being at a bargain price.

Where does that put Te’o? I don’t think NFL teams know. He’s flawed but not a criminal. He’s a good player but not a great one. There are too many unknowns here, which is amazing when you think about it. How can someone play four years at a high-profile college, put up big stats and still be such a mystery?

The Bears have many other needs. Emery already addressed the middle-linebacker spot for next season by signing veteran D.J. Williams. The defense is aging. It could use another cornerback and defensive tackle. Cracks are still visible along the offensive line, even with the signing of left tackle Jermon Bushrod.

There are so many reasons for the Bears not to take Te’o. I’m concerned — and thrilled — they might anyway.



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