OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- If Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o is available at the last pick in the first round, it sounds like the Baltimore Ravens have no hesitation in taking one of the most talked-about players in the draft.
Te'o's draft stock has fallen after poor performances in the national championship game and NFL scouting combine. There's also the issue of being involved in the well-publicized hoax, which has drawn national attention for months. Te'o says he was duped into a fake online relationship.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was asked whether the issues surrounding Te'o are character issues or pure football questions.
"We asked that question in our first meeting. What is the issue?," Newsome said.
The reporter brought up the issue with the fictitious girlfriend. "Is that beating a woman?," Newsome asked. "Is that using drugs? Is that DUI? How do you clarify that? I couldn't."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he trusts Te'o as a leader.
"We're comfortable with him," Harbaugh said at the Ravens' pre-draft luncheon Tuesday. "We had a great interview. We've looked at his body of work, what he's accomplished, who he is as a person, where he comes from. We feel good about Manti."
Perhaps the bigger question is whether Te'o has a chance to last to the bottom of the first round. The Minnesota Vikings have expressed interest in Te'o, and many expect the Vikings to take him with one of their two first-round picks (Nos. 23 and 25). In Todd McShay's latest mock draft, he has the Ravens taking Te'o.
Inside linebacker is the second-biggest need on the Ravens' defense behind safety. The Ravens added a potential stopgap when they signed Rolando McClain to a one-year contract. Baltimore hopes that Jameel McClain is the other starting inside linebacker, but he is returning from a season-ending spinal cord contusion.
"He's in training mode," Harbaugh said of Jameel McClain. "It's just a healing process. There is a certain type of a bruise that happens that caused his issue. But it's going away. He's on schedule. We don't know for sure, but I'm approaching it as Jameel is going to be out there for us and it looks like he has a really good chance of doing that."