If it wasn’t already obvious, the Chargers have not been ecstatic with Manti Te’o’s play recently. Disregard the politically correct answers that management and coaches must say to keep up the confidence of their players; San Diego is not sold on keeping Manti around after next season. Not saying they won’t bring him back, just saying they might be comfortable letting him walk in free agency. This much was already known heading into the offseason as Te’o came off another mediocre season for a linebacker who had so many high expectations attached to him coming out of the draft. This week’s draft only confirmed it.
Another year, another SMALL step in the right direction for Manti. That’s the phrase we keep ushering out at the end of every season. “Well he certainly didn’t progress as much as we had hoped but he did improve some aspects of his game to a degree.” Te’o is starting to become a long-term project in a short-term, win now organization. Rivers is 34 and will turn 35 this December. No offense to everyone else on the roster, but when Phillip walks, our championship window is holding his hand out the door. This is why the time is now for Te’o to either step up or step out.
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With the recent acquisitions of Joshua Perry and Jatavis Brown, San Diego seems to be brewing up some competition on defense. While Brown might be fighting Jahleel Addae for the starting strong safety job, one thing is for certain; Perry was brought in to give Manti a run for his money. Perry fits the mold of a 3-4 inside linebacker seemlessly. He is a stockier player with underrated athleticism who was considered the captain of Ohio State’s defense the past few seasons. However, without a doubt the most important attribute associated with Perry is this: He.Can.Tackle. This is certainly an area Te’o has struggled with since he arrived in the NFL and if he doesn’t improve drastically in that aspect of his game this year, expect Perry to be the guy going forward into 2017 and beyond.
Circling back to Manti, it’s imperative that he succeeds this year. Regardless of his struggles, he still remains a key cog in this San Diego defense. Much like past players such as Johnnie Troutman and Larry English, Te’o will be given every opportunity to play before we decide he’s no longer an acceptable starter on the team. So if he is going to be out there for most of the defensive snaps, we might as well root for him to play well, right?
I, for one see the former second-round pick having a career year this season. From my perspective, this is the year he takes the leap or it never happens. Look around. There are no excuses for him anymore. He’s healthy. He’s finally got an adequate D-Line. He has a playmaking linebacker in Denzel Perryman playing beside him. There is nowhere for Manti to run and hide if this year is a failure. If he fails, the Chargers will realize what us fans have suspected for a while now; that Te’o is not a starting caliber inside linebacker in the NFL. Look at the bright side Chargers faithful, if he does fail, at least we didn’t give him a monster contract prior to sucking wind. Yay for silver linings!!!!!