San Diego Chargers: Manti Te'o

Here are highlights from our weekly San Diego Chargers chat. You can check out the full transcript here.

Heidijoy (Iowa): How are Manti Te'o and Chris Watts doing?

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Eric D. Williams: Te'o looks faster now that his foot is fully healthy. But I want to see how he plays in a preseason game first before saying that he will be an impact player on defense. I think Chris Watt can be a fill-in guy at interior offensive line this season, and potentially a starter at center or guard in the next two or three years. Watt gets after it and appears to be picking up his assignments quickly.

Rashad (San Diego): Has the Brandon Flowers deal broke down with the chargers and why? Do you know his asking price?

Williams: I have no specifics on Flowers and the possibility he ends up in San Diego, other than he visited the team's facility Wednesday and Thursday. Flowers and his representation are likely listening to other potential suitors and weighing their options. The Chargers appear to be in a good position to land Flowers. He fits defensive coordinator John Pagano's system and would be an upgrade over anyone at cornerback on San Diego's roster as it stands right now. My only concern would be how having Flowers on the roster affects the playing time of Jason Verrett and Steve Williams. Those young corners have to play in order to get better. Flowers has to weigh scheme fit, opportunity for playing time and, of course, price.

Milwaukee Dan: What's the story on Woodhead .... a luxury that the Bolts will let walk after this year or do you see them making an effort to keep him?

Williams: Danny Woodhead is a productive player and a good fit in the locker room. I would be surprised if Woodhead is not on San Diego's roster in 2015.

LeAndre (Los Angeles): For some reason, WR Tevin Reese intrigues the heck out of me -- I've heard he's had a few drops here and there during practice, but you can't teach speed. What role might he fill this season OR do you see Reese having a legit shot at being on the field with Keenan, M-80, Vincent Brown/Eddie Royal?

Williams: I like his skill set. I thought Reese actually had his best practice that I watched Wednesday during the team's final minicamp practice. I think he needs a redshirt year to learn a pro-style offense and gain weight. He has an uphill battle to earn a roster spot. I think more likely he winds up on the practice squad, unless he can seize one of the return jobs.
SAN DIEGO -- Sunny skies greeted the San Diego Chargers as the entire team took the field for the first time in preparation for the 2014 season.

Coach Mike McCoy also had to deal with a couple veteran no-shows in the first organized team activity. The practices are voluntary, so McCoy said he had no problem with running back Ryan Mathews, offensive guard Jeromey Clary, outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, inside linebacker Jonas Mouton and tight end Antonio Gates being no-shows on the first day of practice.

Rookie running back Marion Grice and cornerback Greg Ducre also were not in attendance.

McCoy said the absences were expected, and he had no issues with any of the players not being there.

Mathews
“Not at all,” McCoy said. “We know why they are not here. And we’re going to get better with the guys we have here right now. It’s voluntary, and we know why people are not here.”

Mathews, 26, is in the final year of his rookie contract. The Chargers signed running back Donald Brown to a three-year, $10.4 million contract this offseason, and the University of Connecticut product will actually make more in total compensation in 2014 ($4 million) than Mathews ($2 million) for the upcoming season.

But Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said before the draft that Mathews had no concerns with the signing.

“Ryan is a starting back, so his role will essentially be the same,” Telesco said. “Ryan’s a smart guy. He knows why guys are here, and he knows what his role is. It wasn’t an issue at all.”

Clary is due to make $4.55 million in total compensation for the upcoming season. And with San Diego drafting Notre Dame product Chris Watt in the third round, there’s some thought Clary could be asked to take a pay cut.

Clary
But as of right now, Clary is set to make his current salary. San Diego’s first-unit offensive line included King Dunlap at left tackle, Chad Rinehart at left guard, Nick Hardwick at center, Johnnie Troutman at right guard and D.J. Fluker at right tackle.

Floyd’s back: Malcom Floyd, 32, said he’s been cleared for full contact after suffering a serious neck injury in Week 2 of the 2013 regular season against Philadelphia. The veteran receiver worked with the first unit opposite Keenan Allen, and even took a good blow when middle linebacker Donald Butler got caught in the air while going after the ball. Butler braced his impact by grabbing Floyd, and both players fell to the ground.

“I think I’m ready for regular contact now after today,” Floyd said, smiling. “But it felt good. This is something I’ve been looking forward to. There’s no more looking back.”

Hardwick was not pleased with the play, giving Butler an earful afterwards. Butler apologized to Floyd after the play.

Te’o out: Second-year pro Manti Te’o was one of a couple players who did not practice due to injury. Te’o still is rehabbing from foot surgery during the offseason. Tight end John Phillips (knee) and offensive lineman Michael Harris (ankle) also did not practice.

McCoy did not seem too concerned with Te’o being limited on Tuesday.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time with him, like everybody else who has some kind of injury,” McCoy said.

Some tidbits: Players who stood out during team drills includes tight end Ryan Otten, running back Branden Oliver and cornerback Brandon Ghee. … Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall were the starting corners with the first unit. … Javontee Herndon did a nice job catching punts on the side field during practice.
Good morning. Darren Smith of The Mighty 1090 AM radio interviewed San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te'o in this audio link.

Te'o talked about his foot injury -- initially reported as a sprained foot -- that required surgery at the end of the 2013 season to fix. Te’o missed most of preseason play and the first three games of the regular season because of the injury.

Te'o
“It was a long process, and I’m glad I was able to get that past me,” Te’o said. “Now, it’s all about recovering. It’s all about getting stronger, and making sure that stepping into season two that I have no affects from it, and I can just go out there and play.”

Te’o confirmed that the foot issue was the same injury from earlier in the season that he had a procedure on to fix once the season was over.

“Any time somebody has something wrong with them, it’s going to affect them to a certain degree,” Te’o said, acknowledging the foot issue slowed him down. “For me, I did everything that I could do. I did everything I was asked to do, and everything to the best of my ability. And now we’ll see in season two how I do now.”

Te’o also said he has something to prove.

“(I had) a lot of beginner’s mistakes,” Te’o said. “But the best thing about that is there’s a lot of room for improvement. I’m looking forward to this year, just getting together with my teammates again, and having a year under my belt on the field and with the playbook.”

In this ESPN Insider piece Insider, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay examines the best players who play in space. LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. tops the list.

Ricky Henne of Chargers.com profiles Stanford offensive lineman David Yankey.

Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego examines if Auburn edge rusher Dee Ford could help jump start San Diego’s pass rush.

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com ranks San Diego’s running back group No. 5 in the NFL.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is No. 47 in the top 50 NFL player sales list.
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.

Te'o
Player: LB Manti Te’o
Age: 23

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.
From a talent, production and numbers standpoint, the linebackers' group of the San Diego Chargers has the potential to be the best unit on the team defensively. However, this group has to prove that they can stay healthy and perform at high level for an entire season in 2014.

Locks: Melvin Ingram, Manti Te'o,
Looking good: Jarret Johnson, Larry English, Thomas Keiser, Dwight Freeney
On the bubble: Andrew Gachkar, Tourek Williams, Cordarro Law, Terrell Manning, Jonas Mouton
Free agents: Donald Butler, Reggie Walker, Bront Bird

The good: Butler finished second on the team in tackles with 84, and led San Diego in tackles in the postseason. Te'o, a second-round selection in last year's draft out of Notre Dame who played with a broken foot for most of the season, finished fifth on the team in tackles with 61. Te'o had surgery on the foot at the end of the year. Ingram impressively worked his way back onto the field six months after ACL knee surgery, making an impact during the final four games of the regular season and in the playoffs. Keiser joined the active roster from the practice squad four games into the regular season, finishing with 4.5 sacks. Walker showed versatility, with the ability to play all four linebacker positions.

The bad: Not a single starter played a full, 16-game season, as San Diego's linebackers had trouble staying healthy. Butler, Te'o and company also had a lot of missed tackles and blown assignments before shoring things up toward the end of the season. However, the Chargers allowed just six runs of 20 yards or more in 2013, tied for No. 26 in the NFL with Seattle.

The money: Re-signing Butler is one of the team's top priorities in free agency. At 25-years old, Butler, a co-captain, is considered one of San Diego's core players on defense. However, Butler has had trouble staying healthy, missing 24 of a possible 64 games during his four-year career. Butler missed four games in 2013 with a groin issue. The Chargers also have tough decisions to make on two veteran players getting long in the tooth in Freeney and Johnson. Freeney, 34, finished 2013 on the injured reserve with a quad tear. The Syracuse product is due a $500,000 roster bonus on March 15, and set to make $3.5 million in non-guaranteed salary in 2014. Freeney says he intends to play in 2014. Johnson, 32, has two years left on a four-year deal, and is set to make a non-guaranteed base salary of $4 million in 2014.

Draft priority: High. Having a fully healthy Ingram a year removed from major knee surgery should help, but the Chargers still need more answers at edge rusher for the upcoming season. Law finished with 14 sacks for Calgary in the Canadian Football League last year, and has a legitimate chance to make the 53-man roster as an edge rusher. Other college prospects that can rush the passer who could be a fit for San Diego in the draft include BYU’s Kyle Van Noy, Missouri's Kony Ealy and Auburn's Dee Ford.
With NFL draft prospect Michael Sam recently disclosing he is gay, some league observers have compared what the former University of Missouri football player will endure in terms of media coverage to what San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te’o dealt with his rookie season.

Te’o faced intense media scrutiny during the draft process after the revelation that the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was a hoax.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Tony Avelar/AP PhotoManti Te'o has the maturity and smarts to handle heavy adversity, Chargers GM Tom Telesco said.
Te’o had to deal with more questions than normal during San Diego’s offseason workouts and in training camp, but eventually the questions from reporters subsided as the season wore on. That will not be the same for Sam.

An openly gay player in the NFL is a story that transcends sports, and will attract plenty of mainstream media from around the country, and perhaps the globe. It’s a story the team that selects Sam likely will have to deal with throughout the season.

Sam deserves a chance to prove his worth in the NFL based solely on his skills as a football player. But it will take the right organization and leadership in the locker room to embrace his situation, allowing Sam to flourish on the field.

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco declined to discuss Sam’s situation this week, stating a desire to not talk about specific players available in this year’s draft. However, Telesco did offer his perspective on how the Chargers successfully dealt with the media scrutiny Te’o endured after he was selected in the second round by the Chargers, including the organization doing its due diligence before selecting the Notre Dame product.

“Believe it or not, we do the same process on everybody,” Telesco said about the evaluation of Te’o. “So with him, we just did a lot of homework on him. That’s what our scouts do. They try and put that puzzle together on their own as far as talking to a lot of different sources and talking to people they know. We have to get to know the player as a person, as well as a player. So, you have to go through that process.

“Sometimes you have to lean on some people and talk to some people that know the player better than you do. People that have been with the player every day for three or four years, rather than us, who only get small amounts of time with them, and then you make a decision on if you think the player fits you or not.”

Once San Diego selected Te’o, Telesco said the organization did its best to support him, but ultimately it comes down to the character of the individual and how they handle adverse situations.

“Our support staff is really good between the PR [public relations] department and the player development,” Telesco said. “And then we have a strong head coach, and a strong locker room.

“And then the biggest piece of that is the player. Is he mature enough to handle that situation? That has to all add up together. If one of those is missing, it may not work. But in Manti’s case, he’s mature. He’s sharp. And we felt like obviously from the media’s perspective there were going to be a lot of questions to answer, but we felt like he could handle it. You can only have so much support from people, but some of it has to come from the player.”

Morning Links: Allen getting noticed

December, 12, 2013
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DENVER -- Good morning. San Diego rookie receiver Keenan Allen is finally getting some shine nationally. Peter Bukowski of Sports Illustrated pegs Allen as his offensive rookie of the year. Bukowski: “This award has been [Green Bay running back Eddie] Lacy's for most of the last two months, but Allen has wrestled it away with an outstanding stretch as the Chargers' top receiver. He had just three catches for 59 yards against the Giants, but scored twice and is showing why he ought to have been a higher pick despite injury and speed concerns coming out of Cal. With a shootout all but assured this week against the Broncos, expect Allen to continue to be targeted regularly by Philip Rivers.”

Chris Wesseling of NFL.com says the offensive rookie of the year award is a tight battle between Allen, Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy and Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard.

According to Football Outsiders, the Chargers have a 3.2 percent chance of earning the No. 6 AFC Wild Card berth.

ESPN Stats & Info provides the top stats to know for tonight’s game between the Chargers and the Broncos.

ESPN Broncos beat reporter Jeff Legwold writes that the Broncos will play in their sixth prime time game this season on Thursday against the Chargers.

More Legwold: Wes Welker has been ruled out of Thursday’s game with lingering concussions symptoms.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego writes that Manti Te'ohas made progress in his rookie season.

Kyle Posey of Bolts from the Blue writes that Te'o has improved in pass coverage but still struggles in the run game.

Ricky Henne of Chargers.com says San Diego is embracing the challenge on the road against Denver.

In this ESPN Insider piece, Mel Kiper Jr. has cornerbacks like Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard moving up his big board. Both could be potential targets in next year’s draft for the Chargers, who need help in the secondary.

Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel writing for the National Football Post breaks down two offensive tackle prospects who could make sense for the Chargers – Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson and Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio.
SAN DIEGO -- Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano said that cornerback Richard Marshall played solid in his first start for San Diego, replacing Derek Cox at cornerback.

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Marshall
Marshall finished with eight tackles and a pass deflection, and did not give up a touchdown pass.

Pagano said he likes the experienced Marshall's professional approach.

"Number one he has played the game," Pagano said. "He's physical. He likes to challenge people at the line of scrimmage, and he moves his feet well. He's a veteran that understands the game and understands the different types of looks to give people.

"When we first got him, it was about getting him to where he's understanding how we need to be and how our defense works. It's been a plus to get someone like that."

Pagano also said that middle linebacker Manti Te'o had his best game of his rookie season. The Notre Dame product finished with five tackles, including a tackle for a loss, and a pass deflection.

"You are seeing him grow with this game and each play," Pagano said. "It's valuable, and there are some things that are still brand new to him. The more exposure and the more reps that he is getting to see these things, you see certain things start to become more natural to him. The more reps he keeps getting the better we will be."
SAN DIEGO -- A couple defensive players for the Chargers owned up to mental and physical mistakes that led to Denver tight end Julius Thomas sprinting down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown on what seemed like a harmless out route.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy said during his conversation with reporters here on Monday that his defense had a couple break downs on the play. Initially, outside linebacker Larry English didn't bump Thomas off the line before rushing the passer.

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Weddle
The Chargers had a busted coverage when the flat defender, inside linebacker Manti Te'o, didn't get to his zone responsibility in time to cover Thomas. McCoy didn't name who had the flat route, but safety Eric Weddle later confirmed during locker room availability that it was Te'o.

“The linebacker needs to take him to the flat, because that's his guy,” Weddle said. “Derek needs to either make the tackle or turn him back in, and I don't need to assume that the tackle's made, or he's stopped.

“It's very disappointing, especially to myself. I'm not too happy about it. It's actually embarrassing. But I know it will never happen again.”

McCoy also said that cornerback Derek Cox and Weddle have to make the tackle and get Thomas down.

In going back and re-watching the play, Weddle appeared to pull up, assuming that Cox would get Thomas out of bounds.

“Derek and Eric both had a chance there to get him out of bounds, and we didn't do it,” McCoy said. “So it was just poor execution all the way from the snap to the finish.”

Added Te'o: “I've got to do better with my eyes. I've got to know the situations and know my responsibilities. And I've got to do a better job of getting my eyes in the right place.”

The busted coverage was a microcosm of San Diego's struggles to get lined up correctly and into the right play call against Denver's up-tempo, no-huddle attack orchestrated by quarterback Peyton Manning.

“The big thing I told the team before the game is ‘All 11 on the same page before every play,'” McCoy said. “That's the most important thing. Don't come to the sideline saying I didn't get the call. I said don't get caught up in all the stuff he's doing -- it's about us.”

McCoy was asked if Cox will start against Miami this weekend, and if he thought it was productive to have Cox on such a short leash. Cox was benched for a second straight game after the play, but returned to the field later in the game.

“We'll let you know as the week goes on,” McCoy said. “We're going to do what we think is best to help the football team win, week in and week out. We're not going to be afraid to make changes. We'll sit down as a staff and do what we think is best moving forward.”
 
SAN DIEGO -- At 4-4 overall at the midpoint, the San Diego Chargers are about where they should be heading into the season's backstretch.

Quarterback Philip Rivers' bounce-back season has been one of the main storylines for this team, along with the return of a competitive spirit established by first-year head coach Mike McCoy.

Still, the Chargers face a daunting schedule if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. San Diego still has five AFC West division contests left -- two each against division leaders Kansas City and Denver.

 
SAN DIEGO -- Good morning. ESPN’s John Keim has a frank conversation with Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall. It’s a good read that offers insight on Hall’s performance so far this season.

Cole Schultz of Pro Football Focus offers three things to focus on for San Diego’s upcoming contest at Washington. Philip Rivers vs. Washington’s secondary is one of the matchups he highlights.

Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego writes that Manti Te’o matching wits with Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III is something to keep an eye on this weekend.

Ricky Henne of Chargers.com says that ball security for the Chargers will be crucial against a ball-hawking Washington defense, which has scored five touchdowns on turnovers this season.

Chargers safety Eric Weddle talks with Curt Menefee of Fox Sports in this video link.

Chris Wesseling of NFL.com gives us his top five players in the NFL at every position. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates make the cut.

Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com reports that the NFL announced the locations of 15 regional combines for 2014. The closest one to San Diego is at Orange Coast College in Los Angeles on Feb. 22.
SAN DIEGO – With starting middle linebacker Donald Butler out last week due to a groin injury, San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano had to find another player to wear the helmet with the green dot, signaling the defensive player wearing the headset on the field.

And that duty fell to rookie linebacker Manti Te’o.

Te'o
“It was new,” Te’o said. “But during practice I got used to it, and it worked out just fine.”

Added Pagano: “He did great. He probably didn’t like me screaming in his ear all the time.”

Te’o played 31 of the 48 defensive snaps for the Chargers against Indianapolis last week, finishing with a combined five tackles. In just his third game since returning from a sprained foot he suffered in August, Te’o said he was finally playing a little more relaxed and loose.

“It was a little better,” Te’o said. “Every game is a learning process. And every day you have a chance to learn and get better. I think I’m getting more comfortable, and I was able to fly around a lot more. But I have a long way to go.”

With Te’o missing so much practice time because of the foot injury, Pagano said wearing the headset and calling the defense during the game forces Te’o to speed up his learning of the entire defense.

“It makes you focus,” Pagano said. “It gives him the ability to lead out on the field. You’ve got 10 other guys looking at you, and they want the call. They’re waiting for what’s going to come out of your mouth – what’s going to be said. Between timeouts, between series, I’m constantly telling him things. ... That’s where you learn the whole defense. You’re telling a defensive lineman something, and then a secondary player.

“I’m not saying he’s going to know everything right now. He’s a rookie. It’s going to take time. But I think he did a great job.”

With Butler’s having missed two practices this week and his availability uncertain for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville, Pagano said Te’o will wear the helmet with the green dot again this week.
An examination of four hot issues from the San Diego Chargers27-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Tony Avelar/AP PhotoManti Te'o has the maturity and smarts to handle heavy adversity, Chargers GM Tom Telesco said.
Te’o needs to play free: After playing just 14 snaps in his regular-season debut last week, San Diego rookie linebacker Manti Te'o saw significantly more time against the Raiders. Te’o finished with a combined five tackles but did not make any of the game-changing plays that he became known for at Notre Dame. “I’ve got to do a better job,” Te’o said. “Personally, for me, I can’t take that long to get into a groove of things. I’m just thinking too much. When you think, you stink. As a rookie you’re trying so hard not to make a mistake, but sometimes by taking that mentality, you end up making mistakes anyway. So I need to just let the game flow and just go out there and play football.”

Turnovers still an issue: The Chargers have a minus-eight turnover differential through five games, tied for fourth-worst in the NFL, after turning it over five times against the Raiders. San Diego has forced just two turnovers this season while giving up the ball 10 times. And San Diego’s defensive backfield still does not have an interception. The Chargers will not be a consistent winner until they do a better job in this important statistical area.

Freeney’s absence noticeable: The Chargers sacked Terrelle Pryor four times, but none in the first half as the Raiders jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Starting outside linebacker Jarret Johnson did a nice job of picking up the slack with the team’s best pass-rusher, Dwight Freeney, done for the year after suffering a torn quadriceps injury last week. Johnson finished with two sacks, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble. However, Freeney’s replacement, Larry English, finished with just two tackles, and did not make an impact as a pass-rusher. Thomas Keiser, the team’s backup edge rusher, had one tackle in limited duty. “There was definitely more I could have done,” English said. “It wasn’t a good enough showing for me, personally, and we know as a team it’s wasn’t good enough.”

Allen a draft steal: While first-round selections Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson and DeAndre Hopkins have received more attention nationally, San Diego’s Keenan Allen is quickly developing into one of the most productive rookie receivers this season. Allen was targeted by Philip Rivers nine times against Oakland, finishing with six catches for 115 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown catch. Allen posted this impressive performance a week after totaling five catches for 80 yards in a win against Dallas last week. NFL scouts questioned Allen’s speed and ability to create separation at the next level because he's 6-foot-2, 211 pounds. But the Chargers grabbed the physical receiver out of California in the third round, and he’s averaging a healthy 16.1 yards per catch this season. He's also earned the trust of Rivers.
SAN DIEGO -- A quick look at Sunday’s box score shows that San Diego Chargers rookie linebacker Manti Te'o totaled three tackles in his regular-season debut against the Dallas Cowboys.

Te'o
Te’o, who had been sidelined since suffering a sprained foot in preseason play back in August, wanted to play more. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Te’o was in on just 14 snaps.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy said Dallas played “11” or “Kings” personnel most of the game, meaning the Chargers had three receivers, one running back and a tight end. They countered by playing with five or six defensive backs to match up personnel-wise.

So Te’o was replaced by nickel linebacker Reggie Walker, who totaled 44 snaps and four combined tackles.

Although Te’o wasn’t on the field a lot, he made an impact when he was. Specifically, Te’o got to the ball on every play, bringing an energy and swagger that is desperately needed on San Diego’s defense.

“He needs to continue to fly around,” McCoy said. “His strength is to run to the ball and make plays, and that’s what the game is all about. The more snaps he gets, the better shape he gets in every week he’s playing, and the more practice time he gets, he’s just going to get better and better.”

With just two forced turnovers in four games, the Chargers are looking for some playmaking on defense. And that’s something Te’o has shown he can do from his college days at Notre Dame. He finished with 113 tackles and seven interceptions his final season for the Fighting Irish.

The Chargers should see more traditional, two-back formations against Oakland on Sunday, which should mean more time for Te’o.
SAN DIEGO -- Playing for the first time in a regular season game, San Diego Chargers rookie middle linebacker Manti Te'o said he was more relieved than nervous.

Te'o made a tackle on running back DeMarco Murray for a 10-yard gain on the opening play, and just missed notching his first career sack on a Tony Romo rollout, with teammate Kendall Reyes hauling down the Dallas quarterback for a 4-yard loss instead.

“Initially, I was way more relaxed than I was that first preseason game,” Te’o said. “I felt more comfortable, and that had to do with the preparation we all did. I was just relaxed, and focused. And luckily I got a tackle my first play in, and that got the rest of the jitters out. After that, it was just football.”

[+] EnlargeSan Diego Chargers inside linebacker Manti Te'o
AP Photo/Gregory BullChargers linebacker Manti Te'o saw his first action in the regular season against the Cowboys Sunday.
Te’o had not played in a game since San Diego’s preseason opener Aug. 7 because of a sprained foot. Predictably, San Diego coach Mike McCoy limited the Notre Dame product’s reps. Te’o split time with fellow linebacker Reggie Walker. In limited duty, Te’o finished with three tackles.

“It was his first game going back in there, doing certain things,” McCoy said. “And we had certain personnel packages we wanted to play him in. ... He was just excited to get back out there again. It’s great to have him back on the defense.”

McCoy provided little information on his injured players, saying he will have more information on those guys on Sunday.

Pass-rusher Dwight Freeney suffered a quad injury in the first half, and did not return. Offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger suffered a groin injury, returned to the game, but was replaced in the second half by Stephen Schilling.

Cornerback Derek Cox suffered a knee injury in the second half, and was replaced by Richard Marshall. The Chargers played without both starting cornerbacks. Cornerback Shareece Wright missed the game due to a hamstring injury. Johnny Patrick started in his place.

Down three starters, San Diego’s offensive line played well. Philip Rivers was sacked only once by a Dallas defensive front that came into the contest with 13 sacks.

Starting left tackle King Dunlap (concussion), left guard Chad Rinehart (toe) and right guard Jeromey Clary (clavicle) did not play. They were replaced by Michael Harris at left tackle, Johnnie Troutman at left guard and Ohrnberger at right guard.

“The emphasis this week was on protecting Rivers,” Harris said. “And I feel like we did a good job of that. That’s a big, physical group. But I’m just proud of our guys, they stepped up, especially Johnnie Troutman at left guard.”

Rivers also pointed to Troutman as a guy who played well. In the locker room after the game, Rivers highlighted a conversation he had with Troutman after he threw a 56-yard touchdown to Gates in the final quarter with just under seven minutes left in the game.

“I kind of just told him you can’t be hurt,” Rivers said, when asked about his conversation with Troutman on the field. “You’ve got six more minutes, and then you can be hurt for a little while, but you can’t be hurt. Because there were a couple times where he looked like he was going down. And I was kind of like, ‘Hey, Johnny -- no, that’s not an option today.’”

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