This is the biggest week of the lives of NFL wannabes as the annual NFL Scouting Combine takes place in Indianapolis.
National runner-up Notre Dame will be represented well in the Circle City. A total of seven members of he 2012 Fighting Irish team will take part in the pressure-packed long weekend: linebacker Manti Te’o, tight end Tyler Eifert, center Braxton Cave, running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, and safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta. Defensive tackle Kapron Lewis Moore was invited to the event, but is unable to attend as he recovers from a knee injury suffered in the Alabama game.
The NFL future looks bright for most of the aforementioned Notre Dame players, but it goes without saying that all eyes will be on Te’o this week. Without question, Te’o has the most at stake of the 333 college prospects that will be poked and prodded in Indy.
It’s been an eventful couple months for the All-American linebacker, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting since the girlfriend hoax surfaced. He’ll start being under the microscope on Friday and Saturday, when interviews for linebackers commence.
Te’o will try and convince NFL personnel that he’s worthy of being a first-round pick and doesn’t have any character flaws. Fake girlfriend questions won’t be the only topics Te’o will be required to discuss in the 15-minute formal evening interview sessions with teams.
It will be in those settings, as well as the ones on the Lucas Oil Stadium field, where he’ll also have to silence the critics that have some lingering doubts about just the kind of impact he’ll have at the next level.
Te’o played terrible against Alabama as the Crimson Tide manhandled him and made him virtually disappear. As much as he may want to this weekend, Te’o won’t be able to pull any kind of invisible act. Wherever he goes and whatever he’s doing will be covered like a glove, as he’ll be the media’s No. 1 story morning, noon and night.
On Saturday Te’o's measurements will be taken, so it will be interesting to note if the NFL officially lists him at 6-foot-2, 255 pounds as Notre Dame did. Don’t be surprised if he’s shed a few pounds. Remember, he lost weight last summer and it did him a world of good. A lighter Te’o was quicker and made plays from sideline to sideline, raising his NFL stock substantially.
On Sunday, Te’o and his fellow linebackers will undergo more testing, including bench press, and on Monday he’ll have the ever-important on-field workout. It’s during those few days when Te’o will have the opportunity to impress.
Is he a better fit for a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme?
NFL.com compares Te’o to DeMeco Ryans, an inside backer who struggled in the Houston Texans’ 3-4 after excelling as the MIKE in a 4-3 defense. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock has Te’o rated as the second-best inside backer behind Georgia’s Alec Ogletree, who has his own share of off-field problems, including a DUI. The consensus seems to be that Te’o is still worthy of a mid-to-late first-round pick (say late teens to mid- to late-20s).
With a strong showing in Indiana’s capital city, Te’o could easily make sure he’s not waiting very long to hear his name called on April 25 when the NFL Draft kicks off.
Expect Te’o to silence his critics and have an impressive weekend, solidifying his place as no worse than a mid-first-round draft pick.
Doug Griffiths is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association. Doug is a columnist/writer for RantSports. Follow him on Twitter @ISLgriffiths and Facebook.