SAN DIEGO -- Manti Te'o is back on the field and even in June, that's a good sign for the San Diego Chargers.
The second-year inside linebacker participated in his first offseason workout session of 2014 on Monday. Following chronic issues with his right foot as a rookie, Te'o spent most of the spring rehabbing from foot surgery.
"It felt pretty good and we are going to continue to work and get better," Te'o said. "So I'm not taking any steps back."
A foot injury led Te'o to take a step back not long after the Chargers selected him in the second round in 2013. He was hurt in the Chargers' first preseason game, and the setback derailed the early part of his rookie year.
He missed the first three games and seemed to be playing catch up physically and mentally. While Te'o finished with 93 tackles, the sizzling game-changing plays he made at Notre Dame to become a Heisman Trophy finalist were non-existent. On the big-play front, he had zero sacks, zero interceptions and zero forced fumbles.
But he's hopeful his game rises with the health of his foot.
"I have a lot of work to do, a lot of improvements to make," Te'o said. "I'm excited about this year, about the mental progress I've been able to make, as far as the playbook. And I think I can continue to get better."
The Chargers hope so in their quest to shore up their run defense that was ranked No. 22 with four weeks left in the season. They would finish 12th, but some of the improvement in those rankings was because their opponents were playing from behind during the Chargers' strong finish.
Nine times in 16 regular-season games rivals rushed for 100 yards, with four gaining at least 140 yards.
"Everything is a process and now I can start focusing on other things: my drops, getting out of breaks, closing speed and all that good stuff," Te'o said. "It is a very exciting time.
"The more I get familiar with, and comfortable with the playbook. The more attention I can pay on the opposing offense, instead of what I got to do, the more successful I will be."
Sounds good to head coach Mike McCoy, who with Donald Butler -- the team's priority free agent who re-signed a seven-year, $48 million contract that is structured to be a three-year, $20 million pact if the Chargers want to cut ties in 2017 -- and Te'o expects linebacker to be a strength of the front seven.
"Now he's been in the system for a year and the longer you play in a system the faster you are going to play," McCoy said. "You're not going to think as much and you can just go out there and play football."
Playing is what Te'o longs to do. That was evident with the smile he had when exciting the Chargers Park practice field.
"It is way better than running gassers, that's for sure," Te'o said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun