SAN DIEGO -- Entering his fourth year in the NFL, San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Manti Te’o took a look around his position meeting group during the offseason and came to this realization: At 25 years old, he is the graybeard of his position group.
Gone are experienced veterans like Donald Butler, Kavell Conner and Joe Mays. They’ve been replaced with names like Denzel Perryman and Nick Dzubnar, along with rookies Joshua Perry and Jatavis Brown.
“It’s crazy how fast things change,” Te’o said. “I feel more comfortable knowing that I know what I know. I’ve taken my bumps and bruises. I’m not saying that I’m not going to get any more. But the hardest thing is getting that confidence, and not only being able to do what you’ve got to do, but knowing what you’ve got to do.
“For me, being the oldest guy is something I’m comfortable with, knowing that guys depend on me to get them aligned, get them set and that my word is what we go by.”
With seniority, it’s Teo’s time to emerge as not only the leader of his position group, but, as San Diego’s defensive playcaller, one of the leaders on the team.
To do that, Te’o understands he has to be on the field making plays. The Notre Dame product has missed a combined 13 games his first three seasons in the NFL because of foot and ankle injuries.
In 2015, Te’o had his best season in terms of production, leading the Chargers in tackles with 83. But he has to put it all together for a second straight year to confirm last season wasn’t an aberration.
“I’m trying to just take off,” Te’o said. “I know a lot of that has to do with me staying on the field. I need to get my reps and get my experience. I’m happy with the way that I’ve progressed, but I don’t want to [just] progress anymore. I want to arrive.
“There’s certain parts of last season where I showed sparks of that. But the great players show consistency. And I just want to be consistent.”
One of the things Te’o concentrated on during the offseason was working out back home in Hawaii with Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett. The two developed a relationship over the years with both of them spending time during the offseason in Hawaii, and they became workout partners.
“That’s my big bro,” Te’o said about Bennett. “I’m a firm believer that if you work out with the right people, it doesn’t matter what you do. You could do jumping jacks, and it would be the most competitive set of jumping jacks ever.
“So to be with Mike, work out with him and have that mentality and compete against each other, it definitely gets me better and gets him better. It builds that environment where when we get together, we’re going to work.”