Despite injuries, Manti Te’o looks back fondly on his Chargers tenure
COSTA MESA — Injuries dogged Manti Te’o through his first four professional seasons, reducing him from Heisman finalist to NFL afterthought.
Has he escaped the curse? The former second-round pick looked healthy in his return to Southern California, flying around the field during joint practices between his former team (Chargers) and his current one (Saints).
Instead, it was his replacement who watched from the sideline.
Denzel Perryman returned to Jack Hammett Sports Complex on Friday, his first appearance with his Chargers teammates since undergoing ankle surgery earlier this week. The operation could sideline the starting middle linebacker for at least two months, but he appeared to be in good spirits — shaking hands with teammates while observing practice with crutches and a heavily wrapped left leg.
“I didn’t know what happened,” Te’o said, “but I just called him to make sure he was OK.”
He knows the feeling well.
For so long, Te’o endured a similar routine. One of the most decorated defenders in recent college football history, the All-American linebacker appeared in 51 straight games at Notre Dame. But since the Chargers traded up to draft him No. 38 overall in 2013, he has yet to play a full NFL season.
As a rookie, he injured his right foot, missing three games before eventually undergoing offseason surgery. Months later, he fractured the same foot and sat out six games. In 2015, a high ankle sprain robbed him of four appearances — interrupting what remains his most productive season.
And last fall, after being named a team captain, he played just three contests before rupturing his Achilles’ tendon.
This past spring, he headed to New Orleans as a free agent, signing a two-year deal that guaranteed him only a $600,000 signing bonus.
But that incentive-laden contract could be worth up to $7 million, including a $350,000 roster bonus he already pocketed in May. And for now, Te’o looks capable of earning much more.
“I feel great out there right now,” he said Friday. “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.”
He remains appreciative of his time with the Chargers, however limited his on-field contributions may have been. Asked about his favorite memories in San Diego, Te’o mentioned his relationships — the ones built through rounds of golf and paintball competitions, through long flights to and from games.
Take, for example, his bond with Perryman.
“That’s somebody that, I’m going to raise my kids with his kids,” Te’o said. “We’re going to go on vacations together. That’s my brother.”
Last Wednesday, the Chargers’ joint practice with the Rams devolved into fisticuffs, with three fights breaking out between the two teams in a half-hour span.
The Saints didn’t make for déjà vu. The Chargers hosted New Orleans for back-to-back sessions Thursday and Friday, but neither one produced any of the belligerence on display at UC Irvine a week ago.
“Nobody talking trash like that,” receiver Keenan Allen said. “No unsportsmanlike conduct, plays like that. Everything was good.”
Once a top-ranked safety coming out of Northern Guilford High in North Carolina, Allen was one of the main participants in the crosstown skirmishes — tackling Nickell Robey-Coleman after the Rams cornerback shoved Chargers wideout Dontrelle Inman from behind.
“I don’t let anybody cheap-shot my guys,” Allen said. “That’s rule No. 1.”
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