Selected in the second round of the 2013 draft by the Los Angeles Chargers, Te’o spent four seasons with the team but never fully reached his potential.
However, Te’o made lifelong friends along the way and spent time with some of them before joint Saints-Chargers practices, including defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and defensive ends Tenny Palepoi and Jeremiah Attaochu.
“He’s like a big brother to me,” Palepoi said ahead of Sunday's meeting between the teams at StubHub Center. “He and Eric Weddle took me under their wing when I first got here. I got nothing but love for him.
“I really miss the guy. He put a lot of blood and sweat into the defense that we created and the personnel we have. So it was good to see him out here and be able to have him around for a little bit. When he stays healthy, there’s tape out that shows what he can do. Hopefully he can stay healthy and do what he always does.”
Te’o also paid a visit to Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman, who showed up to practice for the first time after having ankle surgery this week.
“I just called him to make sure he was OK, that his family was all right,” Te’o said about Perryman. “That’s somebody that, I’m going to raise my kids with his kids. We’re going to go on vacations together. That’s my brother. I’m glad to see him out there today.”
After four injury-plagued seasons with the Chargers, Te’o looked for a new beginning in free agency and found one with the Saints, signing an incentive-laden, two-year deal that could be worth as much as $7 million.
He’s listed as the starter on the depth chart at middle linebacker, where one of the attractions was working with linebackers coach Mike Nolan again. Nolan coached Te’o in 2015 while serving in the same role with the Chargers.
“I see a guy that’s every bit like he was before,” Nolan said. “He’s always been dedicated. He’s always gonna work hard. All those intangible things, Manti’s always been great at it.
“The thing that I would think that’s most important for him is transitioning in with this group he’s with now. And I think he’s doing a great job with it. He’s always been a great communicator. ... I think he’s transitioning well.”
Te’o, 26, still calls San Diego home and trained there during the offseason with teammate Drew Brees. The Notre Dame product missed 26 games due to injury during his four seasons with the Chargers.
The latest setback for Te’o was a torn Achilles tendon during a Week 3 contest against the Indianapolis Colts. The injury was disappointing for Te’o because he was playing well at the time, serving as a defensive co-captain and defensive playcaller for the Chargers.
“The offseason was long for me,” Te’o said. “It was a very long process, but I took every day and I did my best every day to get me here.
“I feel great out there right now. I’m moving like how I want to move. I’m getting more familiar with how I want to move, and responding when my mind wants me to respond and do things. So all the hard work and the patience that I had to exercise while I was out is paying off, and it’s been a long road, but one that has really shaped and molded me to the guy I want to be.”