O'Hara: Manti Te'o impressive in front of the NFL Combine media

Posted Feb 23, 2013

While Manti Te'o likely won't fit into the Detroit Lions' plans, Detroitlions.com columnist Mike O'Hara takes a look at how the Notre Dame middle linebacker improved his draft stock at the NFL Combine

INDIANAPOLIS – Whatever image football fans and tabloid readers had of Manti Te'o before he stepped in front of a media corps more the size of one covering a Presidential address then a college football prospect at the NFL Combine, he didn't make it worse.

Te'o wasn't hooked up to a lie detector machine to judge the depth of his honesty as he talked about his role in an internet relationship with a young woman who never existed. And there was no team of made-for-TV psycho-babble "experts" commenting on his presentation or body language.Manti Te'o

He came across as sounding like a young football player telling his story – just like he should have – as he stood alone at a podium early Saturday afternoon. The obvious question started the session: what did he have to say about the incident, and how would he handle it going forward?

"I said all I needed to say about it," said the All-American linebacker from Notre Dame, alluding to previous media interviews and the few he already had with teams.

"How I handle it going forward is how I'm handling it now – focusing on the moment, focusing on football and the Combine. Not everybody gets this opportunity to be here. I'm sure there are thousands and thousands of people who'd like to be here in Indy.

"I'm just trying to enjoy the moment."

Te'o said he already had met with the Texans and Packers and had interviews lined up with 18 other teams. He did not know which teams they were, he said.

Teams have not dwelled on the incident or indicated that it will hurt his draft position, Te'o said.

"Not really," he said. "They've all just wanted to hear from me what the truth was. They haven't said anything about it affecting me. Some guys, we just talk briefly 30 seconds. The next 14 minutes is plays, getting down to business. That's how I prefer it to be."

Te'o took all questions for about 15 minutes. A few were even about football and his jump from college to the NFL. He spoke in even, measured tones. He never acted uncomfortable or showed any inclination to lash out in anger of self-defense.

To state again what was obvious, he didn't make his situation worse.

Talent trumps all in sports, and that should be the case for Te'o.

In the case of the Lions, it's doubtful that he would fit prominently in their plans because of where they draft and the position he plays.

The Detroit Lions have the fifth pick in the first round, and they wouldn't be considering a middle linebacker that high. Te'o is rated more from the middle to the bottom of the first round, and he'll probably be off the board before they make their second-round pick.

At Notre dame, Te'o was a tough, competitive linebacker, but he might lack the all-around athletic skill to be a three-down player who can defend the run and the pass with equal proficiency in the pros.

Some mock drafts have Te'o going to Baltimore as the last pick in the first round, as the heir to departing legend Ray Lewis.

The romance hoax, and the fallout when it was revealed, made it imperative that Te'o face the issue head-on at the Combine.

If he was prepared and well rehearsed for the occasion, so be it.

He admitted to being embarrassed by the incident, and its impact on his family.

He laughed about the media throng his appearance generated.

"It's pretty crazy," he said. "I've been in front of a few cameras, but not as many as this."

The Combine is a job fair for the more than 300 college prospects who are invited every year and hope to maximize their position in the April draft. Presenting the best product possible, physically and mentally, should be the aim of every player.

That is no different for Te'o than for a player from the smallest college who played without any fanfare.

Before investing millions of dollars in a prospect, teams want to know as much as they can about their future employee, from his time in the 40-yard dash to his physical condition to his psychological and personality makeup.

What's different about Te'o is the national story that broke about a relationship with an internet-created girlfriend, and the sad story of her death from leukemia. The entire story turned out to be fictitious.

The hoax was revealed to Te'o before Notre Dame's 42-14 blowout loss to Alabama in the BCS national championship game. Te'o had arguably the worst game of his career against Alabama.

"That's all on me," Te'o said, not using the revelation of the hoax as an excuse. "I played hard and so did my team, but Alabama had a great game plan and so did we. They executed better than we did."