Carroll County Times

NFL Combine: Te'o addresses media, sees himself as fit for the Ravens

INDIANAPOLIS - Manti Te'o was calm, poised and cordial, endearing himself to the roughly 200 media members in attendance for his podium session Saturday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

It was the first time the former Notre Dame linebacker had spoken in a press conference-like setting since news broke in mid-January of the bizarre hoax involving Te'o and and his "girlfriend" that turned out to not be a real person, and the 15-minute session served as another step for Te'o in restoring his public image, something that's been very much fractured as details of the hoax have come out during the course of the last month.

And like much of the talk surrounding Te'o during the last month, Saturday's session centered little around football.

But Te'o was open and polite.

He acknowledged being embarrassed as details of the hoax became public, admitted being overwhelmed at times at the amount of attention the situation generated, shared his reasoning for waiting several days to address the hoax and explained how he feels he's been changed as a person by the entire complex situation.

But it's still unclear how the hoax will impact where Te'o will be selected during the NFL draft in April, although Te'o said, based on the sense he's gotten from the teams he's talked to, that it won't adversely affect him at all as far as the draft.

That's not to say teams haven't been interested in hearing Te'o's account of the story, however.

"They all just wanted to hear from me what the truth was, and they haven't really said anything about it affecting me," Te'o said. "Some guys, we just talk [and] I'll briefly describe it for 30 seconds, and the next 14 minutes is all plays and getting down to business. That's how I prefer it to be."

Te'o's had just two formal meetings at the combine thus far - with the Houston Texans and the Green Packers - although he's interacted with numerous other teams on an informal basis and said he has 18 other formal meetings set up at the combine.

"If he can handle that distraction and still be able to perform on the football field, I really don't think it makes that much of a difference," said Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. "Whatever happened is a set of circumstances that only he really knows what it was all about. We'll talk about it. We'll find out about it. The bottom line is, is he a good person and can he play football?"

"That's probably the most important thing that he'll have to answer. I don't think it's going to hurt his draft stock. He's coming here to improve his draft stock. I do think he's a heck of a football player and I think he's got a bright future in this league."

And despite the hoax, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper said he still projects Te'o, one of the top defensive players in college football the past three years and a runner-up for the Heisman trophy this past season, as a first round pick in April's NFL draft.

Kiper said that where Teo is ultimately selected will be dictated more by what he runs in the 40-yard dash, as the primary question regarding Te'o as a football player centers around his speed and athleticism, or perceived lack there of.

"How far will he drop? It depends what he runs," Kiper said. "We're saying drop, but if he runs a great 40 time, then he gets right back into that mix to be in the top-10 to 12 discussion. ... The 40 time's the most important thing. When you talk to NFL people ... they've said to me on numerous occasions that it's all about what he runs."

The Baltimore Ravens are one of several teams that have been consistently linked to Te'o in mock draft leading up to the combine.

Not like it's hard to figure out why.

Te'o's one of the top-rated middle linebackers in this year's draft and the Ravens have a murky situation at middle linebacker. Ray Lewis is retiring, Dannell Ellerbe could leave as a free agent and Jameel McClain's status for next season is still yet to be determined as he continues to work back from the season-ending neck injury he suffered in December.

Te'o had 113 tackles and seven interceptions in leading Notre Dame to a berth in the BCS National Championship this past season.

Te'o was asked Saturday if he sees himself as a fit for the Ravens, who own the 32nd pick in the first round of the draft.

"Definitely," Te'o said. "Whichever team I go to, but definitely the Ravens. Ray Lewis, I've grown up watching Ray Lewis. Just watching his intensity, his passion for the game, his love for the game, his work ethic - man, everything in a linebacker that you want to be is in Ray Lewis, from leadership qualities and all that. He'll be definitely missed in Baltimore and in the NFL as a whole, but if I get to go to Baltimore, it's definitely some big shoes to fill, but an opportunity that I will now be honored to have."

Te'o could be called naïve, yes - and probably plenty of other things as well after apparently being "catfished" into carrying on a lengthy relationship with a girl that turned out to be fake.

It's also fair to question how he'll be perceived in an NFL locker room.

But as far as what he provides on the field, Te'o's an aggressive and instinctive player who was the unquestioned physical and emotional leader of a highly ranked Notre Dame defense this past season.

He was a four-year starter for the Fighting Irish and had a total of 374 tackles during his final three collegiate seasons, including 28 ½ for a loss.

"You saw every Saturday what kind of player he is," said Braxston Cave, a teammate of Te'o's at Notre Dame and a fellow member of the 2013 NFL draft class. "What he does here [at the combine], I don't know how big of an impact that will have [on where he goes]. But when he puts a helmet on his head, the kid can play football. ...

"The hoax has been the spotlight, but it'll be nice when it all passes over. It's a tough time for him, but he's a tough kid and he'll get through it."

Added Te'o: "This is all part of the process, part of the journey. But you know, it's only going to make me stronger in the end, and it definitely has."