Irish cautious with Te'o in practice

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A re-injured ankle won't keep Manti Te'o off FedEx Field on Saturday, but it does change his practice routine for the rest of the week.

And it kills him.

"It's definitely hard for me," Te'o said last week, talking of when he missed practice time earlier in the month, "because I look at as, No. 5's not practicing, but he's also playing. And I look at it from the eyes of my teammates, and I wouldn't want that."

Just don't expect Te'o, who wasn't made available to speak this week, to get any breaks from his teammates.

"I actually try to give him a hard time," safety Harrison Smith said Wednesday, laughing. "When he's not practicing, I try joking with him. But he always wants to be out there because he knows how practice affects the games. You need to see the looks that you're gonna see in the game. But he's still been out there. He's still going and taking every rep he can take, so that's just the type of guy that he is that he doesn't wanna get behind."

Te'o sprained his ankle before Notre Dame's Oct. 8 game against Air Force, which he played in. A bye week followed, then the Irish lost to USC, a game in which Te'o had a sub-par performance.

He followed the next week by making seven tackles on the defense's first two drives in a rout over Navy before appearing to re-injure the ankle late in the third quarter Saturday at Wake Forest. He re-entered the game in the fourth quarter, and head coach Brian Kelly said afterward that Te'o was "playing on one leg."

Managing Te'o this week in practice will be a challenge.

"We need to analyze where he's at physically and what he can do, and not move backwards physically," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "So we need to keep his eyes, his brain, his body movements, his conditioning up to a point and keep pushing that envelope, but never take a step back with his ailment. So that's a daily change. It's always in flux. It changes during practice, so we just have to be perceptive as a full organization and give and take as the day wears on."

Smith said he jokingly refers to Te'o as "Mr. Big Time" when the linebacker is not in on a rep, something Te'o takes lightly.

The captain noted the differences between physical and mental preparation.

"Really just kind of makes it like exactly where you're gonna place your body," Smith said. "You can watch the play and say, 'This is where I need to be. This is what my key is. This is where I'm gonna hit.' And that's why you watch film, too, because you're not gonna be able to rep every play. But just actually doing it with your body, putting yourself in that place, feeling what it's actually gonna feel like, just gives you a little bit more of an edge. So really that's the one thing, but you still can prepare just with your eyes and with your mind."