Can Te'o make it in the NFL?

Monday Night Football's Jon Gruden evaluates the Notre Dame linebacker

Originally Published: March 11, 2013
ESPN.com

Manti Te'o was the first non-QB to be evaluated in "Gruden's QB Camp," where the Super Bowl XXXVII-winning coach Jon Gruden analyzes top pro prospects. Here's Gruden's scouting report on Te'o, as told to ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Throughout the offseason, the hype around Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was about him being the victim of an off-field hoax. Now, it's simply about football for Te'o.

He recently spent more than four hours with former NFL coach Jon Gruden, taping an upcoming episode of "Gruden's QB Camp."

The résumé is there: "First of all, his body of work is impressive. He's a finisher. He didn't come out early. He's been through a lot of hard times. They fired Charlie Weis. They had some really horrific losses there. The easy thing to do would have been to come out early and he didn't take the easy way out. I really like his résumé of work with the 49 starts, finishing the regular season 12-0 and the defense gave up 10 points per game and just two rushing touchdowns. The intangibles are incredible. I think he's a team guy. I think he's going to be a consistent, hard-working, every-day factor. I think he's a very good communicator. The game is important to him. I think the more you give him, the better he'll be. He'll be on a mission to get better at the things he needs to get better at. I think he'll look to gather information and clues on how to stop offenses that are on the cutting edge. You're getting a premier Notre Dame kid that's had a lot of production at the linebacker position."

He's quick enough: "He didn't run real fast at the combine, but he plays with quickness. I think he plays with some thump in the hole. He has a good enough coverage understanding to mask maybe some of the foot-speed issues. Look, I really like him. I think he's a heck of a football player. But people remember what you did recently. He's got to overcome the Alabama performance and he also has to continue to answer the questions surrounding whatever occurred and whatever it was. But I really don't think that's any issue at all."

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Steve Johnson/ESPNJon Gruden enlisted a former NFL linebacker to help advise Manti Te'o.

Ignore the doubters: "I heard one guy come on television and say, if Manti Te'o gets picked in the first round, they should fire the general manager. I don't feel that way. Joe Montana went to Notre Dame when my dad was an assistant coach there. He was a third-round draft choice. People didn't like his arm strength and his ability to make the throws. Not very smart, were they? And really, John McVay, who was with the 49ers then, would tell you they weren't very smart either because they passed him in the first and second rounds. Derrick Brooks? My favorite player I've ever been associated with lasted until the 28th pick because he supposedly wasn't big enough. Ray Lewis wasn't big enough, supposedly. London Fletcher wasn't even on anybody's radar. There are a lot of stories like that. The draft really doesn't matter. If you can name the top five picks in last year's draft right now, I'll buy you a hot dog and a Coke. This is that time of year where that's what people talk about. But I wanted him to know that it doesn't matter. If you got picked in the top five, you probably got picked too high. If you got picked in the bottom five, you probably got picked too low. But 45 minutes after the draft, it really doesn't matter."

A special guest: "I brought in Derrick Brooks in to be a part of this show because we've never had a linebacker through here before. Good players play in the NFL. Great players play a long time. Hall of Fame players have Hall of Fame careers and there's a big difference at that level. Derrick Brooks is a Hall of Fame player. Derrick Brooks is a Hall of Fame person. He was a Hall of Famer in practice and in the meeting rooms. I wanted him to meet Te'o because, if there's a gold standard for Te'o to shoot for, Derrick Brooks is that standard. Hopefully, they connected a bit and can become friends. To have that type of resource at this time in your career, I thought it would be a valuable connection. Leaders develop the rest of the team. They're tone-setters and that's what I want Te'o to be."

A powerful message: "Derrick told him that when he gets to his new team he's going to have to deal with some ribbing about the off-field thing. Derrick told him he has to be able to laugh at himself. When that advice comes from a player as notable as Derrick Brooks, that will resonate with Manti. I think it was the best advice he could have given. It's not a laughing matter. But you have to be self-deprecating and you have to be able to laugh at yourself. I thought it was well said, just to assure the kid that he'll be accepted. Just get it open. Once it's done, it's done forever. That was good stuff by Derrick."

Ready to carry the torch? "With Ray Lewis retiring and Brian Urlacher and London Fletcher near the end of their careers, we need someone to come in this league at the linebacker position that can take the torch. The National Football League needs somebody to come in and play like that because my favorite player just retired in Ray Lewis. Hopefully, Manti takes that as a personal challenge and becomes that guy to carry the torch."