Te'o's time will come

Weis has luxury of depth

September 6, 2009, 3:19 PM

By: Eric Hansen

Manti Te'o's parents soaked up the sunshine Saturday without shivering, something they were unable to do during their only previous visit to the Notre Dame campus.

What Brian and Ottilia Te'o didn't get to experience much of during their roughly 4,400-mile trip from Laie, Hawaii, was a prolonged college debut by their son.

Manti Te'o is a freshman linebacker and Notre Dame's highest-rated defensive recruit since Lou Holtz was coaching national championships for the Irish instead of predicting them.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Te'o played on kickoff coverage Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium and was sprinkled in on defense during a 35-0 subduing of normally high-scoring Nevada -- the first shutout among fifth-year coach Charlie Weis' 51 games at Notre Dame.

Te'o made a sensational pursuit tackle on the very first play he lined up for as a linebacker, and had another stick that was so bone-jarring, it sent a buzz through the crowd.

But all in all, Te'o played roughly the equivalent of one quarter, and most of that came after the game had lost its drama factor.

Afterward, no one was complaining, not even the Te'o family, whose only previous trip to South Bend came in January, about a month before Manti stunned the college recruiting subculture by signing with Notre Dame.

Why did Weis choose to keep the training wheels on Te'o Saturday? Two reasons: (1) Nevada's "pistol" offense, and (2) because he can.

"The uniqueness of their offense boded more towards making sure you had the most-experienced guys out there to play assignment football," Weis explained. "And I think that the combination of Toryan [Smith] and Brian [Smith] out there for the majority of the time was a secure type of feeling for the defensive coaches."

Early in the Weis era, the coach wouldn't have had the choice to ease Te'o into things. But the depth he has built with four strong recruiting cycles has altered that. Other freshmen to make their Irish debuts Saturday were strong safety Zeke Motta, running back/kick returner Theo Riddick, wide receiver Shaquelle Evans, kicker Nick Tausch, long snapper Jordan Cowart and tight end Tyler Eifert.

Of the 11 remaining freshmen, the only three who are "maybe" candidates to play this year -- barring injury to a veteran player -- are running back Cierre Wood, punter Ben Turk and nose tackle Tyler Stockton. Weis said Sunday the Irish won't make final determinations on the redshirt issue for the 11 players who didn't see action until Notre Dame's bye week, which is Oct. 10.

The eight players who have little chance to play this year actually have been impressive in practice -- particularly offensive linemen Chris Watt, Zach Martin and Alex Bullard.

Others who will likely gain a fifth-year option are tight end Jake Golic, cornerback E.J. Banks, wide receiver Roby Toma and linebackers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese.

"In another time, we would have played these guys, because we had holes," Weis said. "Now if a freshman gets on the field, it's not because we're plugging a hole, it's because they're very, very good."


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