Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 42 of 47 FEBRUARY 2018 43 IRISH IN THE PROS BY COREY BODDEN A fter four seasons in San Diego, line- b a c k e r M a n t i Te ' o agreed to a two-year deal this past offseason to join the New Orleans S a i n t s . T h e f o r m e r Irish star was looking for a fresh start and to bounce back from an injury-riddled experi- ence with the Chargers, which included a torn Achilles that forced him to miss all but three games in 2016. In his four seasons on the West Coast, Te'o never played a full 16-game slate — with 13 contests being his career high, set in his rookie season. The Hawaiian man- aged to record 221 total tackles in 38 games with the Chargers. Te'o entered the 2017 campaign with the Saints splitting time with A.J. Klein at Mike linebacker, getting reps in various packages for defen- sive coordinator Dennis Allen. Most of Te'o's playing time came when the Saints used a 4-3 alignment, but the team's nickel package is typically their base defense, so Te'o's playing time was limited quite often in those situations. That didn't deter Te'o from con- tinuing to prove he could make an impact. "Whenever my number's called, I want to do my best and show what I can do out there," Te'o told The New Orleans Advocate in mid-November. "I can't control how many times I get out there, but I can control how I play. "It was difficult at first, but I talked with a lot of my family. [Defensive assistant] Mike Hodges played a huge role for me in understanding that everybody has a role. I have to put the team first before myself. I think I handled it well, I supported everything our team was doing, and we were winning." Saints head coach Sean Payton took notice of Te'o's attitude during that time. "He's certainly one of those guys that is upbeat, positive," Payton told The New Orleans Advocate. "When you're around him, he never has a bad day. "That is infectious and important, because there can be that part of this profession that can be monotonous or somewhat routine, and he always seems to do a good job of breaking that up." During a week 14 game against the Atlanta Falcons Dec. 7, Klein went down with a season-ending injury. As a result, Te'o was asked to take on a bigger role for a team aiming to make a deep playoff run, and he took advantage imme- diately. The fifth-year pro recorded a season- high 10 tackles against the Falcons. During the first half of the season, Te'o made three starts in eight games, recording 24 total tackles in 157 snaps. His role in the Saints defense had seen a slight increase before Klein's injury, but was even furthered when Klein was placed on in- jured reserve. Through the team's week 16 game against the Falcons again Dec. 24 — when Te'o notched a goal-line fumble re- covery to help swing momentum in a 23-13 victory — the linebacker had played 286 total snaps over the previ- ous seven games and made 33 stops. Te'o's defensive teammates have a lot of confidence in his ability to man the middle of Allen's defense. "You can just talk to Manti and know he's been a leader in what- ever he's done his entire life, from playing at Notre Dame to coming in the league," defensive tackle Shel- don Rankins told the team's website. "… We've got guys at that linebacker spot that when their name is called on, they don't bat an eye." The new role hasn't changed Te'o's mindset. "It's the same role," Te'o said in a video released by the Saints' website in late December. "I'm the Mike line- backer. Whenever the Mike is on the field, I'm the Mike. "Whenever my number is called and I'm getting the opportunity to make the play, I make the play." In his first season as a member of the Saints, Te'o will play his first complete regular season. Though his role has fluctuated throughout the year, he may have found his fu- ture home in a place he can continue succeeding. ✦ Manti Te'o Taking Advantage Of Increased Late-Season Role NFL NOTES • Houston Texans center Nick Martin suf‑ fered an ankle injury in a 45‑7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars Dec. 17, which ultimately ended his 2017 season. The former second‑ round pick is expected to make a healthy re‑ turn for the 2018 campaign. Martin missed his rookie season (2016) due to an ankle injury. • After spending most of his rookie season on the Los Angeles Chargers' practice squad, former Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaac Rochell was promoted to the team's active roster Dec. 12 and recorded his first career sack during a week 16 matchup against the New York Jets. Former Irish linebacker James Onwualu, who registered eight total tackles in nine games this season, was waived by the Chargers and placed on the team's practice squad. Te'o, who is in his first season with the New Orleans Saints, recorded a season-high 10 tackles in a 20-17 loss at Atlanta Dec. 7. PHOTO COURTESY NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

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