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Is San Diego Chargers rookie LB Manti Te'o Progressing?

Kyle goes through the game film of the San Diego Chargers win over the New York Giants to find out of rookie linebacker Manti Te'o is still struggling.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

There has been some pretty good chatter lately that the San Diego Chargers rookie linebacker, Manti Te'o, is progressing as a player. Against the Giants, the Chargers were finally healthy, so Te'o's snaps were down to where they should be, where he's playing 66% of the time (compared to 90% a week ago versus the Bengals). So I wanted to take the opportunity to see if Te'o really is improving. I'm not going to go over every play, but I do want to try to illustrate as best as I can to how well he is playing the position.

1st Quarter

  • 1st play of the game, NYG runs outside zone left. Te'o hesitates, tries to avoid the contact of the oncoming OL, and there's a gain of 4.

In this next screenshot, notice how Te'o is still running in place, while Donald Butler is going full speed ahead.


The end result is a 4 yard gain, when it could've very well been 0.


After a punt is forced. 1st down on the ensuing drive.

  • Giants are in Shotgun, and run a power play at Te'o. He does a nice job of reading the pulling guard, and coming downhill. However, when he meets the guard in the hole, he tries to juke him instead of initiating contact and forcing the run back inside. RB runs around him outside for gain of 6.

Te'o stops his feet instead of attacking the outside shoulder of 83.


He is able to evade the blocker, but doing so causess him to miss the tackle. Te'o needs to force this run back inside where the flowing defenders are coming.
  • The following plays are pass plays, Te'o blitzes, but is picked up by the OL and then dropped into coverage but the ball was thrown deep.
  • 1st play on the next series is a run, Te'o reads run and comes downhill aggressive, but gets walled off by the RG.
  • A pass play, and Te'o instantly covers the RB out of the backfield. Ball isn't thrown his way, but good coverage
  • Giants run off tackle for a gain of 11, Te'o takes on the FB, doesn't force the run back inside again.
  • Quick pass to RB for gain of 4. Te'o has the TE on a stick route, he is all over him. More good coverage & good route recognition skills.

2nd Quarter

  • Giants run outside zone to the weak side, Te'o again sees an oncoming blocker and dances with him instead of trying to take him on. Had he gone intially he would've been able to make the play at the line of scrimmage.


The OL who blocked him had to chip his man, that allowed Te'o an opportunity to fill the hole. Instead, Gilchrist makes the tackle at 4 yards.
  • This next play was the best play of Manti's career. The Chargers are in a Tampa 2 defense, and the Giants run what would be a very good coverage beater for this.

To have any chance on this play, Te'o has to get to 50 yard line.


Te'o read Eli Manning's eyes the entire way, and came up literally inches short of an interception. Plays like this are why the Chargers drafted him.

San Diego had the ball for all but 9 plays in the 2nd quarter.

3rd Quarter

  • 1st play after Rivers' fumble, same issues. Still hesitating. The split second hesitation is the difference between him getting blocked by the guard(who buys Te'o time while he chips the NT) and him meeting the RB at the line.
  • Isolated on RB Andre Brown in coverage, Te'o is step for step with Brown. The only way he can make a play is if he over played the route, or the ball is thrown behind him. I don't have any issues with him giving up this 4 yard reception.

  • The next 3 goal line snaps weren't very good. Too much east and west, not enough north and south. On the 1 yard TD by Peyton Hillis, Te'o never took a step forward.
  • 1st play on the next series the Gaints run the TE off and Hakeem Nicks on an underneath route, Te'o does a terrific job of reacting to the underneath route to break up the pass.
  • After over running a run play, and allowing 6 yards, Te'o again gets the appropriate depth on his pass drops and takes away a deep dig route.
  • Te'o & Butler both over run the play again and allow the gain of 19 after Weddle takes poor angle. The following play is a gain of 18 on the exact same play and identical outcome.

4th Quarter

  • Chargers are in another Tampa 2, and Manning dumps it off underneath
  • Te'o does a great job of turning and running to get to his curl/flat zone. It's a little deeper than usual but he clearly understands his passing assignments.
Backups are in the game now.

How much has Manti Te'o Progressed?

I don't know if anyone noticed, but against the Giants Te'o played quite a bit of "Moe", or the inside linebacker to the weak position. I don't know if this was an attempt to hide him from blockers, but it has certainly improved his pass coverage skills. If the Te'o that showed up Sunday is the Te'o that the Chargers get week in and week out, then all signs are trending up. He's played much faster the last few weeks in the passing game.

Here's the problem, he still comes out on obvious passing downs, which is ironic because that seems to be his strength at the moment. Te'o is still struggling to be aggressive, he's still shying away from contact. Playing "moe" he should have 6-8 tackles a game, at least. It's just clean-up duty, basically. The guys in front of him did a good job on Sunday, he just needs to play downhill. He's still making the same mistakes in the run game as the he did the 1st game he stepped on the field. You could argue he's gotten worse.

We'll see if the position switch helps him out over the last few weeks of the season. He's in a perfect position to succeed, there's no more excuses about having to take on lineman, Te'o just needs to go out and play football. I've never had a coach get mad at a player for making an aggressive mistake. He's come a long way, but that's only one aspect of his game. For the team to take the next step, he needs to improve his play in the run game, and there's been no evidence in 10 games that he's done so. These next 3 games should be huge for his development.