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Film Study: Saints Have Signed LB Manti Te’o, What Are They Getting?

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With the signing of Manti Te’o, the Saints have shown a commitment to adding depth to LB position. What does Te’o bring?

San Diego Chargers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The signing of Manti Te’o by the Saints has brought a mixed bag response from media and analysts. While the contract details have yet to be released many fans are hoping for a team friendly deal that fits under the “prove it” mantra. Te’o’s injury history and inconsistencies on the field don’t exactly instill confidence to those watching in Louisiana.

One man who seems to be confident in Te’o is former Chargers’ Linebacking Coach, and new Saints coach at the same position, Mike Nolan. Manti had his best year (2015) while under the tutelage of Nolan. While his overall stint with the Chargers has been deemed a disappointment there is a chance for him to turn things around here in New Orleans.

Last season provides a very limited sample (three games and injured in the third) to review for Te’o. We’ll be looking at film from his previous two years. Also, since there is no way to know how he will perform recovering from his Achilles injury for the purposes of this study we’ll assume the 26 year old returns to full health.

Manti Te’o Vs Run

If healthy, one of the pros to Manti’s game that Dennis Allen should be able to utilize is his versatility. Though listed as an inside linebacker Teo lined up at every LB position during his time with the Chargers. Allen used multiple fronts in 2016, included three man and four man fronts. It is in four man fronts I think Manti will have the advantage as he can line up anywhere on the second level.

Above we can see Teo demonstrating his sideline to sideline ability against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015. He displays good awareness of where the ball carrier is going, is quick to react after the snap and weaves through traffic to avoid blockers and make a play on the runningback.

There is nothing particular impressive in the above play, but after watching two years of his tape I believe this is a good example of what you’re going to get from Teo. He is not going to wow you with playmaking ability, but he is the type of linebacker who can swarm to the football and navigate in space.

Here against Pittsburgh in 2015 Teo manages to avoid two oncoming Steelers linemen to sift through the play and assist in bringing down Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. You can begin to see one of his flaws starting to show, however, and we’ll take a closer look at it on our next play.

This was a perfect A-Gap blitz by Teo if he could just finish the play. He has a habit of attacking the ball carrier too high which can cause him to slide off the player and miss the tackle completely. While he led the team in tackles in 2015, he also had 16 missed tackles.

Manti Te’o in Zone Coverage

On this little underneath spy he does something I can’t remember a Saints LB doing in years: De-cleats a WR in a crossing pattern. This is the type of play that has been run against the Saints defensive effectively for quite a while, and generally was an easy first down play. Problems arise if he gets too aggressive in trying this move, especially against TEs, as he can bounce off of them and allow them a free release into space.

In this Cover 3 Teo is lined up as the strong side backer drifting to his left. Antonio Brown for the Steelers is going to run a simple crossing pattern and once again Teo stops it. However, he did allow the catch this time, but he prevented any yards after the catch. Michael Vicks should go over the middle instead of making the pass to Brown.

Falling back into zone coverage seems to be a position Teo is very comfortable in, and more often than not he did well when tasked with these coverages. We’ve seen Dennis Allen, out of necessity, run zone schemes down in New Orleans.

While I expect to see more press man coverage from the Saints’ cornerbacks next season I believe the LBs will still be asked to drop back into zone. If so, Teo could be an asset. Here is one more zone play where Manti once again stops a short underneath route.

Manti Te’o in Man Coverage

While zone coverage is a particular strength, Te’o did not display the same success in man coverage. I don’t believe you can go as far as to say he is a liability in man coverage, but he does struggle against more athletic and shifty RBs and TEs.

This is getting beat about as bad as one can be. Manti gets caught flatfooted against the runningback and gives up a big gain on a simple move. While these types of plays aren’t an example of all of his man coverage plays its still pretty disconcerting to have your middle linebacker placed so far out of position.

If he were able to complete the play, this sniff out of the screen pass when he had man coverage on the RB might make up for the play before it. This goes back to one of the issues we saw before. He attacks high, and even though he makes a great read and reacts quickly, he’s unable to finish the play.

Much of this film study was more of the same. After watching all of his games the past two years I’d say he has a chance to do better in New Orleans due to their use of two DTs in the middle of the line.

Manti struggles in what is known as the “bubble”. When he has someone in front of him to help soak up the offenses’ blockers and he can roam free is when he sees most of his success at the point of attack. On third downs he can be an asset dropping back into zone coverage, and he can play man when needed.

While he certainly seems to be mostly a depth signing there is potential for him to compete for snaps in New Orleans. Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis are adamant that bolstering the defensive line is a priority. While Te’o is not a player who can stand on his own and shine, surrounding him with superior talent will allow some of his weaker tendencies to be hidden.

A quick list of pros and cons from my film study:

Pros:
Moves through the garbage well to find the ball carrier.
High Football IQ and awareness.
Reads and reacts quickly.
Leader at the LB position/Strong Playcaller
Strong in zone coverage.

Cons:
Tackles very high at times causing him to slide off ball carriers.
Struggles to release from blocks once engaged.
Very poor pass rusher. Almost no moves or plan of attack.
Can take bad angles at times.
Liability against athletic RB/TE in man coverage.

I can’t provide a grade on this signing without knowing the amount Manti was signed to on his new contract, nor without knowing the current state of his injury. His career has been plagued by ankle and foot injuries and having a damaged Achilles doesn’t bode well for a player with that record.

He is not an impressive linebacker, but he also showed flashes of promise while with the Chargers. Still, if he is returning healthy he could be a player that makes a positive impact in 2017. Considering the state of the team’s LB group last season that certainly isn’t out of the question.