Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had his pro day Tuesday. He ran a little faster and he did not talk to any imaginary friends.
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This qualifies as a good day.
What this does not do is tell us anything about Te’o’s ability to be a good pro or if he’s worth a mid-first-round selection, where many have him going on Draft Day, or if he’s a figment of the Notre Dame PR machine instead of real-deal talent. That is going to be decided by film watching, personal interviews and, if NFL teams are smart, studying another pro that had his day Tuesday.
Full disclosure: Former Texas quarterback Vince Young was a pro. Is a failed pro. Already had a pro day. Seven years ago. Leading him to being drafted No. 3 overall. By Tennessee. What brought him back to the University of Texas, to the safe and nurturing embrace of Longhorns coach Mack Brown, to another pro day, is what should interest teams thinking of taking Te’o.
VY failed, in large part, because he was coddled at Texas and the NFL is the stomping grounds of grown-ass men.
There are exceptions, of course. But the players who do the best and last the longest in the league are those who can fight their way back up after being driven to their knees. They have played for guys like Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier, who are in the business of winning, not excuses, fierce competition, not hugs. They have learned nothing is guaranteed, they are responsible for themselves and their messes and they know that no matter who is to blame, they are ultimately responsible.
Does any of this sound like Manti Te’o?
In the wake of learning the dead girlfriend whose story he had told repeatedly and was retold by media as proof of his perseverance, kindness and Heisman worthiness was not real, Notre Dame held a press conference detailing how this was an elaborate hoax and Te’o was a victim. They did this with little investigation. They did this while Te’o remained silent. They coddled him.
The whole coddling phenomenon is a University of Texas specialty, as well as a huge portion of its athletic department problems at the moment.
The UT basketball season was a train wreck, and coach Rick Barnes sweated his job not in the least. It was the same in football. It is only fair in the case of Mack. Nobody coddles more than him.
This was a guy who once intercepted questions for quarterback Chris Simms after an especially awful performance against Oklahoma. He has a way of making sure none of his guys really get tossed in the grease when they don’t play well, which is really kind of him and not at all helpful preparation for the league. He also welcomed Team VY into the Longhorn family, when what Vince really needed was for his coach to say “Y’all are going to have to leave.”
The trickle-down effect of the coddling was Vince seemed ill-prepared to deal with everything that came with his NFL contract — finances, balancing family with responsibility, competition, failure, challenges and what is basically a typical day.
His was not a talent problem. Anybody who watched him against USC in that Rose Bowl knows how immensely talented he was and still is judging by what he did Tuesday in Austin.
The problem for him was off-field NFL readiness. It is one of the bigger questions about Te’o, and he already has plenty. He is not the fastest guy. He is not the greatest athlete in the world. He is on the smaller side. He has trouble shedding blocks from bigger linemen. Then there was the absolute disaster of a performance against Alabama in the national championship game.
The question then becomes what does the player do with this?
In the case of Vince, where the talent questions were far less, he collapsed under the weight of it all — of faltering, of losing his starting job, of being booed, of getting questioned. So much so, the Titans were putting out an APB for an “emotionally unstable” VY based on the concern of his mom. He then bounced from job to job until he ended up broke and unemployed and at another pro day.
I am not saying this is or will be Te’o. What I am saying is the answers needed on him were not available in a 40 time.