Manti Te'o: Notre Dame turnover machine?

By Tom O'Toole

[Manti] Teo, Future MLB for Bears…I think he might end up being a Top 20 pick. –Tweets by Rant Chicago Bears blogger Dominique Blanton ‏ during the Notre Dame-Navy game.

Dominique Blanton’s in-game tweets during Notre Dame’s domination of the Naval Academy pleased me on several levels. First, Blanton’s expert analysis of Manti Te’o shows that the Fighting Irish defensive stalwart’s decision to return to Notre Dame for one more season–while at the same time improve his draft stock–is working out on both ends.

Secondly, I love when players from my alma mater are drafted by my hometown Bears because I get to follow their pro careers so closely. It’s almost like watching two of my favorite teams at the same time. Finally, it indicates that the Bears could indeed consider Te’o a worthy successor to future NFL Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, whose career may finally be coming to a close. Still, there’s one more thing that Te’o must prove.

On the plus side, there’s no doubt that Te’o possesses the Bears MLB’s leadership qualities and Te’o’s 261 tackles over the last two seasons are Urlacher-like numbers as well. But Bears’ head coach Lovie Smith preaches turnovers, and I was shocked to discover that Te’o interception and fumble recovery Saturday were the first in each category in his All-American Irish career. Te’o will never make the Bears or replace Urlacher (who has 21 INTs and 13 FRs in his Bear career) without TOs.

Still, Te’o’s ability to create mayhem has improved each season, as shown by his increase in tackles for losses from 5.5 in 2009 to 9.5 in 2010 and 13.5 last year, so there’s no reason he can’t improve in this category too. As Smith often states, forcing and recovering fumbles is a mindset and interceptions tend to come to athletic linebackers once they believe they can catch the ball and not just knock it down. Now that Navy has given Te’o a taste of both, my bet is he won’t be able to get enough.

Turning Te’o into a turnover machine would be great for the Irish but potentially bad for the Bears. If Te’o begins to excel in this category as well, he’ll probably not be around when the Bears pick late in the first round. But since Te’o turnovers could also lead to the BCS, I’m guessing that’s a tradeoff that Chicago Irish fans would gladly live with.

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