In the Film Room: Manti Te'o

As I've watched the film of the Class of 2009 I haven't been all that impressed. Overall it's a down year. One area where this class is very deep is at linebacker. The linebacker position to me is the best and deepest group this recruiting cycle. Arguably the best of that bunch of excellent linebackers is Hawaii standout Manti Te'o.

Hawaii linebacker Manti Te'o is an athletic linebacker who brings a lot of versatility to the field and has the athletic ability, size, and athleticism to play inside or outside in college.

Te'o has ideal size for a linebacker. At 6-foot-2, he is just the right height to play low to the ground but also be tall enough to defend against the pass. He has a very solid frame and is listed anywhere between 225 and 235 pounds. He's already a stout player but has the body to still add good weight as he develops and physically matures. His body is suitable for both the outside linebacker position he plays in high school, but also for an inside or middle linebacker position if his future chooses to move him inside. Te'o is also a naturally strong and naturally powerful player. He's effortless driving through ball carriers and would-be blockers.

The Hawaii State Defensive Player of the Year is also a very good athlete. Te'o is an outstanding all-around athlete. He's very light on his feet for a player his size. The Punahou star also shows good foot quickness. Te'o is able to stop and start quickly and shows smooth hips, which allows him to change direction with relative ease. Te'o also shows excellent balance as a running back and as a linebacker. This allows him to beat cut block attempts from both linemen and skill players.

Unlike fellow 2009 standouts Jelani Jenkins, Dorian Bell, and Ronnell Lewis, Te'o doesn't have blazing speed. But he's got more speed than some have given him credit for. His smooth style of play and athletic ability hide his speed. He won't ever test out with great 40 times, but he plays very fast and is a true sideline-to-sideline player. His agility and quickness also allow him to break on the ball and he is able to get to top speed immediately.

Physical talent isn't what makes the 235-pound standout so dominant. His instincts and natural feel for the game do that. He's a natural and looks like he was born to play linebacker. Te'o shows tremendous play recognition. He is quick to decipher between the run and pass and rarely gets fooled on trick plays. On his highlight reel he makes several plays against reverses and mis-direction. He also shows the ability to sniff out and blow up screen plays. The Punahou standout is very good at finding the football and making plays behind the line of scrimmage against the run. Te'o is also a very patient player. As with most great linebackers, teams like to run away from him. This can lead players to get anxious and as soon as they see run away they take off and over-pursue. This isn't the case with Te'o. He shows excellent patience and discipline on the backside, which prevents teams from cutting back on his over-pursuit. At times he even showed a bit too much patience and was late breaking to the run, but I'll take that over a guy who over-pursues all the time. It will be easier to speed him up on the backside than to slow him down.

In coverage he uses his light feet and quickness to work his zones well. He also shows the ability to read quarterbacks, break quickly on the ball, and break up passes. In high school he was predominantly in zone so it will be interesting to see how well he adjusts to having to cover backs and tight ends in college. He has the athletic ability, hips, and instincts to get the job done.

Te'o is obviously a well coached football player. He not only has tremendous athletic ability, strength, and instincts, but he also plays the game with very good fundamentals. Te'o plays with natural sink in his hips, which gives him an excellent base and good pad level. This also allows him to always have good leverage against blockers and ball carriers. When he attacks the football he shows excellent pursuit and takes good angles to the football. His quickness and instincts allow him to constantly beat blockers to the ball carriers to spots. When he has momentum working in his favor he is also able to beat blockers and shed. In college he'll need to learn to use his hands better when taking on lineman, learn to anchor better, and then shed the bigger blockers as he goes to the football.

Like the rest of the linebackers in this class, Te'o is also an explosive tackler. His athleticism and natural power allows him to explode through ball carriers with ease. There are clips on his film where he approaches the ball carrier, drives through him, and the ball carrier just disappears. He also does a good job of staying low as he attacks ball carriers and rarely goes high. In college Te'o will have to be more consistent driving his legs through ball carriers. At times he'll leave his feet or stop his feet and he engages the ball carrier. He also needs to learn to wrap up all the time. He shows good tackling technique, but at times he'll drive into a ball carrier without wrapping up. This is fine in high school, but in college players won't go down so easily. With some refinement I see Te'o being an excellent tackler in college.

When you combine his size, natural strength, athleticism, instincts, and ability as a tackler I don't think you'll find a better well rounded linebacker in this class. There are bigger players, there are faster players, and there are stronger players. But I don't see any linebackers in the class of 2009 who have that entire package.

Te'o is also extremely versatile. He has the speed to play outside, he has the instincts, strength, and size to play inside, and he plays the pass almost as well as he plays the run. Te'o also plays with tremendous emotion and fire. He's not a show-boater at all, but he brings a lot of energy and passion to his position. With his size and strength he also is one of the few linebackers who will have a chance to earn immediate playing time. On signing day some program is going to land themselves one of the nation's best players, and from all reports one of the best individuals. Top Stories