Manti Te’o could be Brian Urlacher’s heir apparent
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org February 19, 2013 10:48PM
Notre Dame's Manti Te'o is seen in action during the second half of the BCS National Championship college football game against Alabama's Crimson Tide on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Miami. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Here are the top three inside linebackers in the 2013 draft:
Name School Ht. Wt. Year Proj. Rd.
Alec Ogletree Georgia 6-3 234 Jr. 1
Quote: “Ogletree is potentially a top-10 player who has had significant [off-the-field] issues.” — Mike Mayock
Kevin Minter LSU 6-1 245 Jr. 1-2
Quote: “A guy who has moved up a lot. . . . He was a tackling machine.” — Mel Kiper Jr.
Manti Te’o Notre Dame 6-2 255 Sr. 1-2
Quote: “[It’s] not a lock that he’s going to be a great passing-down middle linebacker.” — Todd McShay
Updated: March 21, 2013 6:37AM
Manti Te’o probably will feel uncomfortable — and he should.
After being involved in that notorious catfishing controversy, teams will want to know anything and everything about the once-praised Notre Dame linebacker during interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine, which opens Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Of course, that includes the Bears.
With no Andrew Lucks or Robert Griffins this year, Te’o, with his capricious draft status, headlines the combine. For the Bears, the combine also could be about finding an heir apparent to Brian Urlacher, whose future remains unknown.
Maybe it’s Te’o.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay rate Te’o as a first-rounder who could be available when the Bears’ No. 20 pick comes up. McShay, in his latest projections, actually has the Bears selecting Te’o.
“I think this is around the range that [Te’o] goes, somewhere in the 10-to-25 range,” McShay said. “I think 10 would probably be too high, and it really has nothing to do with the off-the-field stuff. That’s just where he grades out as a player.
“One of the questions is: Can he be a really good third-down or passing-down middle linebacker? This year helped him [with] the seven interceptions. But the more I’m studying, the instincts got him in position, and he was quicker this year because he took off some weight, and you could tell he was just moving better than he had in years past.”
The Bears certainly have done their homework on Te’o, but meeting with him and others could determine if a linebacker rates higher on their draft board than certain offensive linemen, another glaring area of need.
Te’o, Georgia’s Alec Ogletree and LSU’s Kevin Minter are the only inside linebackers who rate as first-rounders. But Te’o (catfishing controversy) and Ogletree (DUI arrest) come with concerns.
“I would tell Te’o, ‘You better look people in the eye, and I know you’re going to be embarrassed,’ ” Mayock said. “But don’t be embarrassed. . . . Don’t back away. Admit what you did. Look people in the eye. Tell them your story, and let the tape do the talking.
“What I really think happened is that up until that story became public, he had a plus-plus-plus intangible grade. Was he going to become Ray Lewis? Could he galvanize a locker room? He had a huge intangible grade that would push his on-the-field grade higher. I think he’s lost all that.”
There are reasons why targeting a linebacker makes sense for the Bears:
† The new staff has stated many times that it still has players best-suited for a 4-3 scheme, but the team lacks depth at linebacker. Urlacher is an unrestricted free agent who turns 35 in May and has injury concerns. But even if the Bears re-sign him, Nick Roach and Geno Hayes also are UFAs.
† Kiper, McShay and Mayock said the 2013 class is deep with offensive linemen. As far as inside linebackers, Mayock says it’s Te’o, Ogletree and Minter, then “there’s a big drop-off.”
† At the moment, it also looks like there will better offensive linemen available in free agency than linebackers.
At the Senior Bowl, general managers stressed a wait-and-see approach with Te’o, who struggled mightily in the national title game against Alabama. Teams will begin interviewing linebackers Friday.
Kiper said teams want to see how fast he runs the 40-yard dash because that “is going to determine whether he’s an every-down linebacker.” But Mayock contends his body of work is still exemplary.
“Some teams have said to me, ‘The kid obviously had some stuff going on in his life, and we’re not sure how well-prepared he was mentally to play in that national championship game,’’ Mayock said. “The whole girlfriend thing is going to hurt a little bit. The bowl game is going to hurt. But I think the body of work is what trumps it.”