It’s been a rough journey already for linebacker Manti Te’o, and he hasn’t even gotten to training camp yet. The well publicized fake girlfriend snafu is what most people associate the linebacker’s name with right now, but the San Diego Chargers are sure that link won’t last very long once the rookie hits the field.
Rookie minicamp and the veteran integration already took place for the Bolts, but Te’o still has plenty to prove between the white lines to the team that traded up to select him with the 38th overall pick near the top of round two. San Diego let go of seasoned veteran leader Takeo Spikes at the inside linebacker spot earlier in the offseason, and even though Pro Bowl talent Donald Butler remains inside, Te’o could quickly find himself in a battle for a starting position.
The Green Bay Packers placed D.J. Smith on waivers this offseason, but he didn’t last long as the Bolts scooped him up to add to their scant depth chart at the position. A torn ACL and MCL in Week 6 of the 2012 NFL season is what prompted the Packers to cut ties with the 24 year old out of Appalachian State. He played in every game during his rookie season of 2011 with the Pack and had started all six contests in his second year prior to the season-ending injury.
Smith will provide Te’o with some stiff competition for the starting job at inside linebacker, but he may not be fully recovered in time for the start of training camp. The injury occurred on October 15, 2012 and training camps begin in late July which would put the recovery time at right around nine months. While that is the typical timeframe for such an injury, it may be pushing it to think that Smith will be super competitive for the starting spot from the get-go.
Neither Jonas Mouton nor Andrew Gachkar figures to offer much resistance as far as Te’o securing a starting gig so it really depends on the health of Smith. Leadership is one of those intangibles that many scouts raved about when it came to Te’o from his days at Notre Dame so bringing him in to replace Spikes would be a fitting arrangement for the Bolts. While he will need to improve in the coverage department, natural instincts and a tireless work ethic will allow Te’o to succeed from day one. The veterans on the Chargers have already been praising the way the rookie goes about his business which certainly bodes well for his future.
Off the field problems may get most of the ink for now, but once Te’o gets a few games under his belt the stories about his stellar play are sure to follow. The Chargers are expecting big things from this youngster early on, and he is likely to be a starter when the 2013 season gets underway.