Manti Te’o is back practicing with the San Diego Chargers instead of working on a side field.
“It’s way better than running gassers, that’s for sure,” the inside linebacker said Monday, when the Chargers started their third and final week of organized team activities, which are practices in shorts, jerseys and helmets.
Until Monday, Te’o had been working on a side field with other players recovering from injuries. He had surgery on his right foot in late January.
“I’m very confident coming into the offseason and today was a great day to be out with the guys,” he said.
His rookie season got off to a slow start after he injured his foot in the exhibition opener. At the time, the team said it was a sprain but after the season, Te’o said it was a stress fracture.
“It’s getting there,” the former Notre Dame star said. “Today was my first day out and it felt pretty good and we are going to continue to work and get better so I’m not taking any steps back.”
Asked to what extent the injury bothered him last year, he said: “Every NFL player, you are never fully healthy. You just make sure you are able to do what you got to do on Sundays and I was able to do what I was able to do and now I’m looking forward to this year with a year under my belt and it will be good.”
After missing the first three regular-season games, Te’o started the final 14 games, plus the two playoff games. He was credited with 93 tackles in the regular season.
Te’o said he’s about four or five pounds lighter than last season.
“I’m a little lighter than I was last year,” he said. “A lot of people think I’m heavier because I’m bigger. I feel good. I feel in control and that is something as a football player that is very, very important.”
He said he wanted to get “more explosive and stronger. Obviously, it was a little tricky with my foot so we really focused on the muscles around it and got the work necessary and when my foot stated to progress and get better, I was able to do more things with my feet. Everything is a process and now I can start focusing on other things: my drops, getting out of breaks and closing speed and all that good stuff. It is a very exciting time.”
After practice, coach Mike McCoy aired out his team for several minutes. At one point, he invoked the loss at Denver in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“We set a standard around here for what’s acceptable and what’s not,” McCoy said later. “There are certain things you like and certain things you don’t like.”
Tight end Antonio Gates hasn’t been at the practices that have been open to the media.
McCoy wouldn’t say if the absence was medical related.
“Gates is accountable for,” the coach said.