In last year's draft, the San Diego Chargers selected Manti Te’o in the second round to fill the inside linebacker position alongside Donald Butler. Many praised this pick to be a steal in the second round, as Te’o was expected to be a first round pick. But as the season progressed, those same voices turned their heads and began criticizing Te’o for his lack of production. Though I am not the highest on Manti Te’o’s progression as a Mike linebacker in the Chargers’ 3-4 scheme, there is some leeway to give in Te’o’s situation. For starters, his injury caused him to be sidelined after just his first preseason game. The time off caused Te’o’s understanding of the Chargers defensive system to stagnate. This led to Te’o to struggle in both learning and executing the new defensive scheme (to him.)
The defense that Manti Te’o ran at Notre Dame was the typical 4-3 defensive alignment where he played the Mike linebacker. Here is an example below:
The reason why Manti was such a highly touted prospect coming into the draft was because he excelled in Notre Dame’s 4-3 defensive scheme as a mike linebacker. Te'o is the perfect fit as the mike in the 4-3, both in the physical sense and in his play style.
The Role/Physique of a 4-3 Mike Linebacker
The role of the 4-3 mike honestly depends on what type of scheme that the defense is running (the two being: the traditional 4-3 and the 4-3 Cover 2), but since Te’o was running mostly the 4-3/C-2 at Notre Dame, I’ll be outlining his roles as a 4-3 mike in order of importance.
Coverage: This was the most important part of being a mike linebacker in Notre Dame’s defense for Te’o. He was responsible for a large portion of the short-to-mid/mid passing zones and spend most of his time dropped back in coverage. Te’o was by far the best coverage linebacker that was coming out of college football in 2013.
Blitzing: Since Te’o had monsters in front of him at both defensive tackle positions while at Notre Dame, run defense wasn’t a key part of his job. So when Manti was not dropped back in coverage, his primary objective was to blitz the A/B gaps. As you can tell by this pattern, Te’o main job in the Notre Dame defense was to focus on the pass game, not the run.
Run support: Te’o rarely provided much run support because of the monster defense line that the Fighting Irish had on the field. In rare situations of stacked line play (watch Stanford/Alabama), Te’o was asked to read/react on most run plays and provide run support.
The physique part is quite short and, at times, are not pivotal, but this is what an ideal 4-3 mike linebacker’s physique should be like:
A 4-3 mike is a bit taller and more athletic than a 3-4 mike linebacker. Because of the roles of the 4-3 mike, the main attribute that the linebacker must possess is the ability to shift in open coverage. He must be quick, fast, and needs a good enough vertical to defend most passes coming through the middle of his zone/area. Most 4-3 mikes must be able to keep pace with opposing tight ends.
Te’o matches all the categories of what makes a 4-3/C-2 mike successful, thus attributing to his success with Notre Dame.
The Roles/Physique of a 3-4 Mike/Ted Linebacker
Before I get into the roles of the Ted linebacker in the 3-4 defense, I’ll need to explain the difference between the Mike and the Ted in the 3-4 scheme. The mike in the 3-4 scheme is similar to the 4-3/C-2 Mike in the sense that they are the primary coverage linebacker. But since there are two "mikes" in the 3-4 scheme, the 3-4 mike doesn’t drop as much into coverage nor does he cover as much ground as a 4-3/C-2 mike. The Ted linebacker is your run-stopping linebacker. His primary objective is to take out the lead blocker of the opposing offense so that the mike can come in and "clean up the mess." In most situations last season, Te’o was placed into the Ted role in the Chargers’ 3-4 scheme. (Though I have absolutely no understanding as to why)
Roles of Ted Backer
Run Support: Run support is crucial as a Ted in the 3-4 scheme. Te’o’s main priority as a Ted is to read run first and take out the lead blocker on most of the sets during plays. The second part of this objective is to be a read/react backer to the opposing guards/fullbacks. Depending on the play call, the Ted will react to the motion of the guards or the fullback and needs to react to stop the run plays.
Blitz Support/Spy: No, the Ted backer isn’t the biggest blitzer in the 3-4 defense, but during passing downs this is the second most crucial aspect of a Ted. Depending on the situation, the Ted backer must read/react to the quarterback’s movements, the blitz success of teammates, draw fakes, screen fakes, and must keep the quarterback from scrambling.
As you can see, Manti Te’o is not bred to be a 3-4 Ted or Mike linebacker. He’s been in the 4-3 system from the beginning and yet has the understanding or physique to take over that 3-4 role. Hopefully Te’o will slowly progress to transition into a linebacker that will fit either the Ted or the Mike role in the 3-4 defense.
In the next park of the series, I will be discussing the positives of Manti Te’o’s rookie campaign.