San Diego Chargers rookie linebacker Manti Te’o wasn’t even close to being a media distraction last season, and that isn’t surprising in retrospect given that storylines are normally overblown. Helping Te’o anonymity was his lack of big plays on the field, but he did record 62 tackles and four passes defended in his first season and figures to form a solid starting inside linebacker duo with Donald Butler, who was rewarded handsomely this offseason as Tom Telesco’s top free agent priority, going forward. If they can beef up their defensive line and cornerback position during the draft, then the Chargers defense will be a much better unit next season.
Te’o struggled last season against the run as a rookie, but he was as good as advertised in coverage and was easily the team’s best coverage linebacker. That will be crucial in his second year, and I’m sure he’ll make strides in run defense next year. Not only will experience and his own talent help him going forward, but he’s also going to be healthier next season.
The Notre Dame product told The Mighty 1090 AM’s Darren Smith, via ESPN NFL Nation’s Eric D. Williams, that he is past the broken right foot that costed him valuable offseason workouts, preseason games, and the first three games of his rookie year. Te’o also added that the injury negatively affected him throughout the season, “Any time somebody has something wrong with them, it’s going to affect them to a certain degree. For me, I did everything that I could do. I did everything I was asked to do, and everything to the best of my ability. And now we’ll see in season two how I do now.”
Here’s to looking forward to big things from Te’o in 2014, and he and Butler are two young, talented inside linebackers worth watching closely.