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Manti Te’o has better workout; could he be Urlacher replacement?

Linebacker Manti Te'o runs 40 yard sprint during Notre Dame Pro Day Tuesday March 26 2013 South Bend Ind. (AP

Linebacker Manti Te'o runs the 40 yard sprint during Notre Dame Pro Day Tuesday March 26, 2013 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

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Updated: March 26, 2013 11:07PM



SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For the first time since his life turned upside down in January, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o looked and felt like the Manti Te’o who won everything but the Heisman Trophy last season and ran and moved like the Manti Te’o who was a sure-fire first-round NFL draft pick.

‘‘At the end of the [NFL] combine I interviewed him, and he was drained. He was completely drained from the four days with the media circus, with everything he went through,’’ NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. ‘‘Today he was energized. He was happy. He was relieved. And I think getting the monkey off his back with all the off-the-field stuff about the hoax, I think that’s a big piece of it. The process is playing itself out.’’

In an almost perfunctory part of that process, Te’o erased the biggest on-the-field knock on his NFL prospectus at Notre Dame’s pro day Tuesday at the Loftus Center. Te’o was timed from 4.69 to 4.78 in the 40-yard dash and looked comfortable, crisp and clean in workouts before representatives of 26 of the NFL’s 32 teams, including Bears’ assistant director of college scouting Jeff Shiver.

‘‘He helped himself,’’ one long-time NFL scout said. ‘‘He ran better. He had a nice position workout. He did a good job.’’

Te’o’s slower than expected 40 time of 4.82 at the scouting combine sparked speculation that he might drop out of the first round of the NFL draft. Now there appears to be little doubt he is at worst a mid-to-late first-round pick, and definitely in play for the Bears at No. 20 as a replacement for recently departed middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.

‘‘I think his interest starts at 19 with the Giants and 20 with the Bears. And Minnesota is sitting at 23 and 25,’’ Mayock said. ‘‘Between 19-32, he’s going to go somehere in there.’’

During his All-America senior season, Te’o was ranked as high as the top five in the NFL draft by ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. But those expectations dimmed after a disappointing peformance in Notre Dame’s blowout loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. Speculation about Te’o’s draft status picked up steam at the scouting combine in Indianapolis after it was revealed the heart-tugging story of the life and death of his girlfriend was a hoax. And the doubts reached a fever pitch after he couldn’t break 4.8 in the 40.

But it appears that NFL teams were less concerned about Te’o than the public, media and draft-niks who fuel most of the irresistable pre-draft conversation. The 26 teams represented Tuesday was one fewer than last season for Notre Dame’s pro day, when Harrison Smith was the star attraction. No head coaches attended and only one general manager — the Vikings’ Rick Spielman.

‘‘The most important thing is the tape,’’ one scout said, ‘‘and his tape is excellent.’’

The lower 40-yard-dash time is significant, but not telltale.

‘‘It just makes it easier for a scout or a coach to go in and sell him on draft day,’’ Mayock said. ‘‘You can go in there and say, ‘He’s a 4.75 40 guy. And that’s what we saw on tape. He’s not a 4.83 guy.’ For the most part teams already had a real good feel for where they were on him. This just helps a little bit.’’

As for Te’o, he was glad the day was over but clearly enjoyed every aspect of it — even the 20-minute press conference after the workout. He was especially pleased to be working out with 13 Notre Dame teammates — from his good buddy Tyler Eifert to former walk-on Chris Salvi of Lake Forest and Carmel High School in Mundelein. It was as if he felt like a football player for the first time in two months. You didn’t need a stopwatch to see that he was a faster, better player Tuesday than he was at the combine.

‘‘I felt good,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m at home now. I’m in a place where I’m comfortable, surrounded by people that I know. It was kind of a grand finale kind of thing, with everybody there. I had guys around me I spent the last four years with that I was comfortable with. It was more comfortable being out here and performing here at Notre Dame. I was very pleased with what happened.’’

The pro day performance appears to have answered the biggest lingering question about Te’o’s draft status. Becauses the hoax episode does not appear to be a significant impediment. It appears the NFL is satisfied with his answers on that bizarre chapter not only in a press conference at the combine but in private interviews with 20 NFL teams. That’s over and done with.

‘‘For me it is,’’ Te’o said. ‘‘I’m just glad that I’m out here playing football. I’m back home. I’m with my guys. So that stuff is long gone.’’

Te’o still will have personal workouts with various NFL teams. The Bears are certain to be one of them unless they try to feign disinterest by not having him in for a personal workout — an old NFL draft trick the Broncos used to snare Jay Cutler with the 11th pick of the 2006 draft. He plans to stay in South Bend and follow the draft from his home here.

He has no idea where he might be selected and doesn’t care as long as somebody takes him. He expects to be a three-down linebacker in the NFL. Aware of the other on-the-field knock on his game, he’s working on ‘‘using my hands and getting off blocks.’’

He’s aware the Bears have an opening for a middle line backer of the future after parting with Urlacher, but has no other opinion on the matter.

‘‘I saw that on the ticker [about the Bears and Urlacher] when I was playing Madden 2013,’’ Te’o said. ‘‘That’s crazy. But I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. I just let teams do what they do and I do what I can do. I wasn’t too sure how to respond to what happened. I was like, ‘Oh, wow. That’s very sad.’’’

And most of all he can’t wait for draft day.

‘‘If you ask anybody who has gone through this process, this is possibly the best day ever,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a big, big burden off your shoulders. It feels like it’s your birthday. I’m very glad that it’s over. You’ve [still] got to perform [prior to the draft]. This is when you’ve got to kick it into overdrive. But we’re definitely pleased and very happy that this process is done.’’



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