Manti Te’o has given critics many reasons to doubt him leading up to the NFL Draft. He posted a poor 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, he was dominated by Alabama’s offense in the BCS National Championship Game, and there was that whole fake girlfriend thing. Despite these strikes against him, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden still believes in the former Notre Dame linebacker.
Gruden interviewed Te’o for his pre-draft “QB Camp” that is typically just for quarterbacks. After spending time with Te’o, he felt confident in the man who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting.
“He really understands the big picture,” Gruden said of Te’o, “how coverages work and how blitzes work. He’s got a vast amount of football expertise and it showed [during our interview].”
Gruden also told ESPN “NFL Live” host Trey Wingo that he thinks Te’o can overcome the girlfriend hoax story for which he has become known.
“I think he’s handled [questions about the fake girlfriend] fine. I think it’s time to move on.”
Even if Te’o can get past the jokes about the girlfriend hoax, people still have concerns over his ability that stem from his poor performance in the national championship game. Gruden dismissed those concerns, instead choosing to credit Alabama rather than discredit Te’o.
“I don’t have that much of a concern. I watched Alec Ogletree from Georgia play against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. I watched [linebacker Kevin] Minter from LSU play against Alabama. All of the linebackers got rolled by the Tide if you ask me. Alabama was the best team in the country,” Gruden told Wingo.
Though Gruden won’t use the national championship game as knock against Te’o, he does see areas where the former Notre Dame linebacker needs to prove himself.
“He’s got to run faster. The one thing he needs to prove is that he can play every down. He’s got to be comfortable in space against Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham and some of these Corvettes that we’re seeing in the National Football League today. His Pro Day will be very important to him.”
I appreciate Gruden’s analysis of Te’o. It has become popular to pile on Te’o, and most people have been ignoring some of the things he does do well. He was a top recruit out of high school, played well during college, and he seems to know where to be on the field. He had seven interceptions last season which says a lot to me about his presence on the field. That amount is almost unheard of for a linebacker.
Te’o does have a lot left to show at his Pro Day, but he is nowhere near as bad as others are making him out to be.
You can watch Gruden talk about his day with Te’o in the video below: