INDIANAPOLIS -- I sat in on the Manti Te'o news conference Saturday afternoon. After all, you could argue that three of our four teams in the NFC North are in the market for an inside/middle linebacker in the 2013 NFL draft. A fourth, the Detroit Lions, could conceivably draft him as a strong-side linebacker who eventually moves back into the middle.
So my eyes lit up for a moment when Te'o revealed that the Green Bay Packers were one of the first two teams he has formally met with here at the NFL scouting combine. Injuries sidelined two of the Packers' inside linebackers last season, Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith, and the San Francisco 49ers exposed what was left of their depth chart in the divisional playoffs.
But it's important to remember that the Packers (and Houston Texans) are two of 20 teams that will get formal face time with Te'o at the combine. The remainder will have an opportunity for informal discussions and/or private visits later in the draft process. There is almost no established connection between combine meetings and the likelihood that a team will draft a player.
Te'o said that everyone he has talked to has asked him about the hoax he said he fell for, leading him to believe he was in an online relationship with a woman who did not exist. Indeed, the Packers would be foolish not to ask Te'o about the situation and gauge his response.
To that end, Te'o said he is telling teams "the facts" and summarized his response to them in this way: "I cared for somebody and that's what I was taught to do. Ever since I was young, when someone needs help, you help them out. Unfortunately, it didn't end up the way I thought it would."
Earlier this week, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said his most pressing question for Te'o would be an explanation for his poor performance in the Discover BCS National Championship against Alabama. Was he distracted by the hoax? Physically outmatched? Both? Neither?
Asked if he was distracted in that game, Te'o said, "No." He added: "That's all on me. I played hard, so did my team. But Alabama had a great game plan and so did we. They just executed it better than we did."
The Vikings' middle linebacker, Jasper Brinkley, is a pending free agent. So is strong-side linebacker Erin Henderson. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears might be seeking a long-term replacement for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Before that can happen, NFC North teams must determine if they can trust Te'o. Do they believe his story? Or do they think he is continuing to perpetuate a lie? Now is the time to find out.
"They want to be able to trust their player," Te'o said. "You don't want to invest in someone they can't trust. Everybody here, they're just tying to get to know you. They're trying to get to know you as a person and a football player.
"It could be a hurdle but it could also be an opportunity to show how you really are. That's the way I have approached it and it's been a big learning experience for me."
For what it's worth, I thought Te'o handled the news conference well. If he performs the same way for teams in interviews here, he will go a long way toward putting this unique story behind him.