I really, really tried to like Manti Te’o.
I got caught up in the mania, the story about the inspiring young man who led the best Notre Dame team in recent memory to a No. 1 ranking. I found myself rooting for the hero of the tragic story who lost two very important women in his life over a matter of hours and followed up with virtuoso performances against Michigan State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks.
I thought, “Now there’s a guy who could be a leader in the Steelers’ locker room.” It doesn’t matter if he’s not the most athletic linebacker on the planet; he has football smarts and great intangibles.
When the catfishing scandal broke, I still wasn’t quite off of the Te’o train. I’m not all that far removed from college; my friends and I all had our fair share of stupid experiences. Kids will be kids, regardless of how many cameras are on them.
Even lying to an entire country for weeks didn’t completely turn me off to this guy as a football player. Lots of people lie to make themselves look better to the public eye. We’re all human, and if you’re cutting the kid down for making a mistake, there’s a good chance that you’re a hypocrite.
I’ve hung in there through a lot, more than a reasonable non-Notre Dame fan should typically weather. But Manti, I’ve had enough.
If I’m the Steelers, you are off my draft board. Not in the second round, not in the third round, not even in the fourth round am I drafting you. I’ve learned all I need to know about you in the last month or so.
Let’s take a look at how Te’o fell from grace, and why the Steelers should stay away.
First of all, Te’o flunked the biggest test of the year. His performance against Alabama, the closest thing that he will ever see to pro competition at the collegiate level, was atrocious. Te’o missed tackles, struggled to get off blocks and was manhandled for the duration of the BCS National Championship Game.
Players are judged based on how they play against the best competition, and Te’o shirked from the challenge. Needless to say, that game was over by halftime. Teams like Pittsburgh definitely took notice.
Everyone has a bad game. There’s no doubt about it, and while Te’o may not be as spectacular as many people thought he was, he probably isn’t as bad as he played in the game against Alabama.
It’s the erosion of his “outstanding intangibles” that raises bigger concerns with me.
Te’o hid out from the world at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. in the days following the catfishing scandal’s coming to light. I think he missed an opportunity for some positive PR by not addressing the matter, but I won’t ever blame a player for trying to keep his private life private. That’s his call.
Te’o had to have known, though, that the eyes of the world would be upon him at the combine. After all, he was working out for over a month at the Academy without speaking to the media, so one would think that he was sharpening the skills that he would showcase at the combine.
It looked more like Te’o spent that time on the couch rather than at a prestigious football camp. He looked soft and pudgy, gave canned, clichéd answers to tough questions at his press conference, blundered his way through positional drills and capped it all off by running a 4.82 in the 40-yard dash. For reference, two offensive linemen ran faster than that.
I’m not saying that Te’o should be an amazing athlete. If he’s not, he’s not. What I am saying is that he couldn’t be bothered to be ready for the combine, and that he sauntered through the most important job interview of his life. Pittsburgh should be insulted. If Te’o refused to take the combine seriously, then the Steelers should take the same stance regarding his candidacy to don the black and gold.
Finally, and in many ways most disturbingly, Te’o has absolutely butchered his handling of his poor performance. He went from being a leader who knew all the right things to say to an entitled whiner who offers excuses like this:
Today was just a long, long day. It’s difficult to balance things and to stay as focused on what you got to do. I’m glad that the combine is done. I’ve finished that and now I’m focused more on specific things like my 40 and I don’t have to worry so much about other things. It’s difficult.
Is Te’o suggesting that the other prospects at the combine breezed through their days? The combine is a gauntlet for every prospect. Why should Te’o get to use “It’s hard,” as an acceptable excuse for flubbing it?
He hasn’t said a thing the right way since the college football season ended. For instance, he recently said:
I think the 40 time measures what the 40 time is supposed to measure. I think that’s something that I’m going to get better. The only way from here is up, so I’m definitely going to get better at that. I think, as far as play, I think what’s on the film, that’s the play. Obviously, I can get faster in my 40.
In a matter of moments, he minimizes the importance of the 40-yard dash, predicts that he will “obviously” improve upon this meaningless exercise at his Pro Day and tells critics to watch his game film when determining his draft value.
How pretentious does that sound?
Well Manti, thank you so much for gracing us with your participation in the 40-yard dash. If it truly didn’t matter, why bother running it again at your Pro Day? And I’ll go ahead and flip on your game film and watch Eddie Lacy run past you, through you and around you like you were a freshman in high school. I’ll watch Chance Warmack bury you into the defensive backfield and I’ll watch you miss tackle after tackle in the biggest game of your life.
At a time when leadership is at the forefront of the Steelers’ minds, Manti Te’o has effectively disqualified himself by his showings in the recent months. I think it will be tough for his fellow players to accept him as a stable locker room presence, and he may have done irreparable damage to his reputation. The Steelers may need a middle linebacker of the future, but Manti Te’o is not it.
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