Te'o not yet thinking about NFL


Te'o not yet thinking about NFL

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Manti Teo said he hasnt put much thought into his future in the NFL, but Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco certainly has.

After perhaps his quietest week in months, one void of cameras, reporters with questions and awards speeches, Teo said Monday he has been focused on the moment at hand instead of the road ahead.

But Diaco has no problem forecasting the senior linebackers future -- he believes Teo, who won seven awards this season and was also a Heisman Trophy finalist, has an even brighter future.

He has no limitations, Diaco said. Hed be, and is going to be, a productive player in any defensive system that he gets added to at the next level.

Related: Te'o projected as high first-round pick

You can attribute Diacos faith in Teo to the gains the player made in his pass defense this season. Te'o's strides have helped elevate the Irish to be the No. 1 scoring defense among FBS schools heading into the BCS Championship Jan. 7 against Alabama.

Whereas Teo has always been a force in defense of the run and pass rushing -- he had 261 tackles the previous two seasons, including 23 for a loss -- this season he added a new wrinkle.

Prior to 2012, Teo had six passes defensed and no interceptions in his first three seasons at Notre Dame. But this season, through his study of opponents and improved technique, Teo has seven interceptions and 11 passes defended going into the teams bowl game.

Hes a student of the game, Diaco said. First of all, hes a got a great understanding of the pass situation. So hes already anticipating pass and run. He can fit himself into the pattern of his responsibility. After that, where he has really made a lot of gains is, he kind of is dictating, a little bit, the terms as where it relates to where he fits and invites the quarterback to do something he is asking the quarterback to do through his body language.

Related: Heisman goes to Manziel, but Te'o continues to build legacy

Speaking to the reporters for the first time in a week Monday, Teo said he hasnt thought about anything beyond Alabama. His parents have urged him to start thinking about the NFL and reporters have asked too. But after an offseason full of award shows -- he won the Walter Camp player of the year, Lott and Lombardi Trophies, and the Maxwell, Bednarik, Butkus and Nagurski awards -- Teo described a week away from the spotlight as joyful.

Instead of making speeches, Teo had the chance to be a student again, finishing up final exams and hang out with his teammates.

It was amazing, Teo said.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”