Previewing Manti Te'o's week at the NFL Combine

Previewing Manti Te'o's week at the NFL Combine
February 20, 2013, 12:15 pm
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The biggest job interview of Manti Te'o's life will hardly be easy, not with all the baggage the ex-Notre Dame linebacker is bringing with him to Indianapolis this weekend. 

Te'o, once thought to be a potential top 10 pick, has slid down way-too-early mock draft boards since news hit last month that Lennay Kekua, purported to be his deceased girlfriend, was nothing more than the product of a hoax. For nearly two exhausting weeks, Te'o became a household name for something totally unrelated to football -- and now, that hoax storyline will make a comeback this weekend. 

The good news for Te'o is he can silence plenty of doubts by performing well at the Scouting Combine. Running a 4.6 or 4.7 40-yard dash would certainly go a long way for Te'o, especially to the team that aren't as concerned with his off-the-field saga. 

But one aspect of Te'o's allure was torpedoed last month with the Kekua story. As NFL Network analyst -- and NBC Sports Notre Dame broadcaster -- Mike Mayock explained earlier this week, Te'o's no longer a player teams view as a future leader.

"Up until is that story became public, he had a plus, plus, plus intangible grade," Mayock said. "Was he going to become Ray Lewis? Could he galvanize a locker room? He had a huge intangible grade that would push his on-the-field grade higher. I think he's lost all of that. At best, it's now going to be neutral. Just, hey, what kind of player you are, and where can we slot you?"

Te'o's leadership was lauded by his teammates and coaches, and it likely played a significant role in his second-place finish in last year's Heisman Trophy balloting. Te'o was the leader of a team that went undefeated in the regular season, and frequently admitted that he wouldn't have gone to New York for the Heisman ceremony had Notre Dame lost one of those 12 games. 

Plenty of teams will be just as eager as Te'o is to move on from the Kekua story, but there will be a group them ready to grill the linebacker over the saga. Other teams will shy away from adding Te'o to their locker room because of the scandal, while others will discount it. Mayock explained:

"I think there are two schools of thought. One is most of us have made mistakes at age 21, and the kid's naive, and it's embarrassing -- but it shouldn't really hurt the kid because it's not like one of those major things where you say we can't have him on our team. 

"Some other teams are going to look at him and say he lied to his father. He had a chance when he found out about what really happened, he had a chance to tell the nation, and he lied to the nation. And do you want a liar in your locker room?"

Te'o, too, will have a chance to meet the media in Indianapolis in a setting he's not too familiar with. Notre Dame, nearly all the time, held press conferences for Te'o -- that meant no waves of groups asking similar questions multiple times. 

That won't be the case in Indianapolis. Te'o will face a media circus that some are expecting to be as big as the ones seen for Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, and he'll be asked plenty of questions about the Kekua story.

The best thing Te'o can do with the media throng is to be open and honest about the story -- just as is the case for when he meets with teams about it. The good news for Te'o is he's adept at giving off an air of humility while answering questions in a straightforward manner -- rarely was he abrasive with the media, even if he was exhausted by all the questions during the season. 

If all goes right for Te'o, the story about him from this weekend won't be about Kekua -- it'll be about impressive measurables. He can accomplish that by, of course, running a good 40, having a good vertical leap, etc., but also by being up front and honest about the Kekua story.

"Don't back away. You did what did you. Look people in the eye, tell them your story, and let the tape do the talking for you," Mayock advised. "Your tape over four years, your performance this weekend, run your tail off, and it's going to be uncomfortable, but be honest."