In this series we take a look at 12 players for the San Diego Chargers 25 years of age or younger that could be considered foundational or impact players for this franchise as they attempt to develop a perennial playoff contender.
Player: LB Manti Te’o
The skinny: Selected in the second round of the 2013 draft by San Diego out of Notre Dame, Te’o missed most of exhibition play and the first three regular-season games with what was reported as a sprained foot. Te’o returned against Dallas in Week 4 and immediately was placed in the starting lineup. He showed some rust in the first four games, taking poor angles to the ball carrier, missing tackles and at times reacting slowly in the run and pass game. But Te’o’s overall play improved during the second half of the season. He finished fifth on the team with 61 combined tackles.
Reason for optimism: Te’o had surgery this offseason to repair a broken bone in his foot, so with rehab and film study it’s possible that his play speed will improve in his second season. Add to that a healthy Donald Butler practicing next to Te’o in offseason workouts and training camp, and the expectation from defensive coordinator John Pagano is Te’o will make more impact plays in his second season.
Reason for concern: Known for his playmaking ability at Notre Dame, Te’o finished without a sack, interception or forced fumble in his rookie season. Add to that the fact that he looked overmatched physically at times and is returning from a foot injury, and you can understand why the Chargers invested in a middle linebacker in free agency with starting experience in Kavell Conner. If Te’o suffers another injury or does not show improvement, the Chargers have an answer in Conner, Reggie Walker and perhaps Andrew Gachkar.