SAN DIEGO — Manti Te’o was deep into his first news conference of training camp when Eric Weddle walked up to the podium, tapped the rookie on the hip and pointed him toward the locker room.
“Rookie’s got enough time. It’s time for the older guy. So get in there and watch some film or something. Love ya,” the veteran safety said. “Eric’s up. The kids are waiting for me, so let’s make this quick. Just kidding.”
Well, Weddle was mostly kidding, although he did have somewhere to go with his kids
“I love you Eric,” Te’o shot back, perhaps relieved that his once-weekly media session was over, although he has handled himself well in front of microphones since the Chargers moved up in the second round of April’s draft to select the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
That’s how it is for Te’o now as he begins the adjustment from star linebacker at Notre Dame to NFL rookie with the San Diego Chargers.
“I’m just keeping my head down and working hard and making sure that my head is in the playbook and that they’re not yelling at me too much,” Te’o said.
Although Te’o continues to learn the Chargers’ scheme and terminology, he said one thing never changes.
“For the most part, it’s football. You tackle the guy with the ball. When you think about it that way, it’s pretty simple,” he said.
The Chargers held their first practice Thursday in helmets, shorts and jerseys. They don’t practice in pads until Saturday, which Te’o is looking forward to.
Te’o is clearly the Charges’ most intriguing player. His No. 50 jersey reportedly is the hottest-selling among rookies and fans want to know if he can successfully play inside linebacker in the NFL. The last time he had pads on, he and the Fighting Irish were embarrassed by Alabama in the BCS national championship game.
And there’s still the matter of Te’o getting duped in a fake girlfriend hoax that was revealed in January.
At the recent ESPY Awards, actor Jon Hamm made a crack about Te’o’s fake girlfriend.
“I didn’t see it,” Te’o said. “Everybody started texting me: ‘Are you at the ESPYs?’ I wish I was. At this point, it doesn’t bother me at all.
“When you start focusing on the outside stuff, that’s when you start to mess up,” he said. “You have to focus on what you’ve got to do. By doing that, that’s when you bring the best out of yourself and that’s when you’ll be a contributor to this team. I think once you start focusing on the outside stuff, that’s when you start letting your team down and that’s something that I don’t want to do.”
Te’o did say it was pretty neat having a hot-selling jersey, although it probably means more to his family than to him.
“You know how Polynesian families get. You buy them by the dozen. So we contributed to the numbers a lot,” he said.
Te’o said the transition to the NFL will probably be harder mentally. He recalls being an upperclassman at Notre Dame and counseling freshmen with words that apply to him now that he’s an NFL rookie.
“No matter where you are, no matter what level you’re at in football, whether it be the NFL, college or Pop Warner, it’s still football. I think as long as young players grasp that, and understand that, that they’re going to make mistakes, it’s part of the learning process. But to learn that the field is still the same length, touchdowns are still worth the same amount of points, I think you find a lot of comfort in that and start to relax and that’s when you start to blossom into the player that you are.”
Weddle said Te’o is doing great and doesn’t seem like the typical rookie.
“He’s eager to learn, extremely talented, instincts are off the charts, obviously, that’s why we brought him in. Reminds me of myself in a lot of ways, in the way he recognizes plays and is in the right spot. Biggest thing for him is just consistency, continuing to learn, take what the coaches tell him, along with us as players, give him little tidbits as we see, and just take it, embrace it, have fun with it.”
Weddle said Te’o has a good head on his shoulders, but still needs to know that rookies need to focus on football as a job.
“Getting in early and staying late. There’s really no excuse to be late or to have someone like myself staying longer than you,” Weddle said. “I mean, you really have nothing else to do. I have a wife and three kids, so yeah. I need to get home. For younger guys, they need to understand that this is all that your life should be about. There’s nothing else. You don’t need to be going out, you don’t need to be touring the town. What you need to do is memorize and know the playbook inside out and know your teammates.”
Notes: Inside linebacker Jonas Mouton was carted off the field with a leg injury. Coach Mike McCoy didn’t provide specifics afterward. … Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney hobbled off the field at one point, had his left leg taped and then returned.