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NFL Capsules: Te'o doing tough balancing act at NFL combine

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Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2013 9:15 pm

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Manti Te'o walked into a crowded room of reporters Saturday, took a breath and settled in for 15 minutes of NFL scouting combine history.

Again, the former Notre Dame linebacker explained how he had been duped into an Internet romance he had with a girlfriend he never met. He did his best to turn the page on an embarrassing chapter by talking football. This time, he even got to see it play out on live television 12 yards away — where three muted flat-screen monitors were in direct view of Te'o.

He answered every question with thoughtful deliberation and tried to provide clarity on a hoax that turned one of the nation's most inspirational college football players into the butt of national jokes.

"I cared for somebody. That's what I was taught to do ever since I was young. Somebody needs help, you help them out," Te'o said.

Later he added: "People doubted me because I took a while to come out. From our point of view, we wanted to let everything come out first, and then let my side come out. The way we did it, I thought, worked best for me."

Te'o's news conference was the most anticipated event of the NFL's second-biggest offseason weekend, which brought the makeshift media room inside Lucas Oil Stadium to a virtual standstill — twice.

The too-good-to-be-true story began with Te'o's incredible performances after learning his grandmother and what he believed was his girlfriend had died within hours of one another in September. Te'o said it inspired him to play his best football all season, and it was so compelling that it helped turn Te'o into a Heisman Trophy contender as he was leading the Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season and into the national championship game.

On Dec. 26, Te'o notified Notre Dame officials that he had received a call from his supposedly dead girlfriend's phone three weeks earlier.

The school investigated and on Jan. 16 — after Deadspin.com broke the story of the fake girlfriend — athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced at a news conference that Te'o had been duped. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, 22, later said he created the online persona of Lennay Kekua, a nonexistent woman who Te'o said he fell in love with despite never meeting her in person.

Since then, Te'o had only done a few one-on-one interviews.

On Saturday all that changed as many of the 800 credentialed media members surrounded the podium in rows that went eight deep. Te'o wore a tie-died red-and-black workout shirt.

"It's pretty crazy," said Te'o, who has played most of his games on national television and was one of the most recognizable college players last season. "I've been in front of a few cameras before, but never as many as this."

Only two scenes from the combine over the past 15 years could even compare to what Te'o had to contend with Saturday.

The first came in 2004 when former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett was allowed to participate in the combine after a court ruled he should be allowed to enter the draft after finishing high school only two years earlier. That decision was later reversed.

The other time was 2010, when Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion Tim Tebow stepped to the podium in Indianapolis and everyone, including those listening to Packers coach Mike McCarthy, sprinted to the opposite end of the room for Tebow.

This was different.

When word leaked Te'o would speak at about noon, reporters immediately surrounded the podium. Over the next 25 minutes, rumors circulated that in a rare and possibly unprecedented move, Te'o's agent would speak from the podium. That did not happen. There also was speculation that Te'o might deliver an opening statement like the then-injured Michael Crabtree did in 2009 and Cam Newton did two years later. That did not happen, either, though Te'o did make a closing statement in which he thanked his family, friends and fans for standing by him during this tumultuous month.

"It's definitely embarrassing. You walk into grocery stores and people give you double takes to see if they're staring at you," he said before explaining he's moved on. "If I was embarrassed, I wouldn't be able to stand in front of you."

The only thing that really matters in Indy, though, is what team officials think. Te'o said in the two formal interviews he's had, with Green Bay and Houston, they have asked about the hoax. He has another 18 interviews left.

Will it hurt his draft position?

Former NFL executive Bill Polian, architect of four Super Bowl teams in Buffalo and two in Indianapolis, has been adamant that it won't, and coaches and general managers seem to agree.

Most say they are more concerned with the red flags of other players -- drug use, alcohol abuse, academic woes and even criminal allegations -- than they are with Te'o's tale.

"Somebody that's not truthful, that's big, to me. I'm a big fan of the 'Judge Judy' show. And when you lie in Judge Judy's courtroom, it's over. Your credibility is completely lost. You have no chance of winning that case," San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday. "I learned that from her. It's very powerful, and true. Because if somebody does lie to you, how can you ever trust anything they ever say after that?"

Two questions later, he was asked whether that meant the reigning NFC champs would avoid Te'o in April's draft.

"No. I wouldn't say that," Harbaugh said.

Te'o and the general public weren't the only ones watching the interview session Saturday.

Team officials are taking notes, too.

"Honestly, it's a distraction. If he can handle that distraction and still be able to perform on the football field, I really don't think it makes that much of a difference," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said before Te'o spoke. "We'll talk about it, we'll find out about it. The bottom line is, is he a good person and can he play football?"

On the field, Te'o's is one of the top linebackers available.

Last season, he won the Maxwell Award, Bednarik Award, Butkus Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award and Walter Camp national player of the year and finished second in balloting for the Trophy.

But there are concerns. Te'o was asked if the undercurrent of the hoax explained his poor play in Notre Dame's BCS championship game loss to Alabama. He has said it didn't.

"They want to be able to trust their players. You don't want to invest in somebody you can't trust," Te'o said. "With everybody here, they're just trying to get to know you as a person and as a football player, and I understand where they're coming from."

But the hardest part has been seeing the impact it's had on those around him.

In a phone call, Te'o said his sister explained how the family had to sneak into its own house because of the people parked in the front yard, and he also said he empathized with the chaos it has caused Tuiasosopo's family. He said he has no plans to sue, either.

Instead, Te'o just wants to forget about the hoax and focus on football.

"I've learned first, just to be honest in everything you do, from the big things to the small things. To keep your circle very small and to really understand who's in your corner and who's not," he said. "Going off of the season my team and I had, there were a lot of people in our corner, and then when Jan. 16th happened, there was a lot of people in the other corner. I've just learned to appreciate the people that I have that are with me."

-- Michael Marot

Notebook: Ogletree trying to move forward at NFL combine

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Alec Ogletree passes the eye test for an NFL linebacker. All he has to do now is prove he's worth the risk.

Ogletree has had his share of problems since arriving at Georgia, a list that includes a four-game suspension to start last season for an undisclosed violation of team rules and last weekend's DUI arrest. When he showed up to take reporters' questions Saturday, the fourth day of the league's annual scouting combine, the first five questions were about his past mistakes and whether it will affect his draft stock.

"I don't really know what it's going to do, but like I said, I feel bad about it and I'm really sorry about it," Ogletree said. "I just have to move forward and take what I get."

Ogletree isn't the only one facing these sorts of questions.

Two other prominent former SEC players -- receiver Da'Rick Rogers and cornerback Tyrann Mathieu -- have acknowledged they tested positive for drugs in college. Tennessee and LSU, respectively, kicked Rogers and Mathieu off their teams.

Then there's the strange saga of Armonty Bryant, a defensive lineman from East Central University, a Division II school in Oklahoma, who will spend this weekend explaining his arrest on a felony charge of marijuana distribution in a school zone. He said an officer spotted him selling marijuana to a friend in the back lot of the school dorms.

Bryant was called out of practice in October, was subsequently arrested and wound up getting a five-year deferred sentence and two years of supervised probation.

"I told them (scouts) that it was stupid, it was a stupid mistake," Bryant said. "I was in college and I wasn't looking toward my future. I tell them I was young, and it was a dumb thing."

Those sorts of youthful indiscretions can become key factors in where places wind up on a team's draft board -- or whether their names are completely removed.

In all four cases, it could make an impact.

But Ogletree is the only one who was listed as first-round pick. He seems to have the most to lose.

"Just by having a good interview," he said when asked how he plans to convince NFL teams he's changed. "Just being a good person and letting them get to know me and who I really am and now just what they hear about me and stuff."

ROBINSON THE RECEIVER: One of the more interesting story lines Sunday will be seeing how much progress Denard Robinson has made since the Senior Bowl in trying to make the transition from college quarterback to pro receiver.

And that might not be the only position Robinson gets a shot.

After struggling at the Senior Bowl, he acknowledged some teams have asked about the possibility of playing him at running back and he plans to throw at his Pro Day workout March 14. Defensive back is another possibility. In past years, combine officials have given college quarterbacks such as Antwaan Randle El, to showcase their skills at more than one position.

It could happen again Sunday, though Robinson insists he is focused on only one thing -- showing scouts he can catch the football.

"You have to make sure you attack the ball and not just fading away from the ball. You have to stay on top of stuff," Robinson said. "I've played football my whole life and I just have to get used to doing it. And just have fun learning a new position I'm catching a lot of balls and learning a lot of routes and just trying to get ready for it."

PAY DAY: One fast player at this week's combine may have a contract offer even before April's draft weekend.

The shoemaker Adidas took out an ad in The Indianapolis Star on Saturday, offering a contract to the player who runs the fastest time this weekend.

It might take a while to find the winner. Last year's fastest 40-time (4.28 seconds) was posted by Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill. There has been a sub-4.3 run each of the past five years and there have been 14 times under 4.3 since 2005. LSU receiver Trindon Holliday set the record (4.21) in 2010.

So why the wait?

Four of those top times were posted by cornerbacks and they won't run until Tuesday.

TOP PERFORMERS: Among the offensive line prospects Saturday, Ohio University guard Eric Herman finished with the most reps (36) on the 225-pound bench press, while Terron Armstead was the fastest, finishing the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds. Oklahoma's Lane Johnson was second in the 40 at 4.72.

Armstead (34½ inches) and Johnson (34) also posted the best vertical jump numbers.

Among tight ends, Arkansas' Chris Gragg (4.50) and Maryland's Matt Furstenburg (4.62) were the fastest. Gragg also led his peers with a 37 ½-inch vertical jump. Tommy Bohanon, a fullback at Wake Forest who worked out with the tight ends on Saturday, also did 36 reps to lead his group.

PLAYING COY: New York reporters tried to get Giants general manager Jerry Reese to open up about his offseason plans.

Reese did what most front-office people do in Indianapolis, keeping those thoughts to himself. He did share a few thoughts, like whether the Giants valued Hakeem Nicks over Victor Cruz.

"No, that's not correct," Reese said. "They're both good players, we like them both, and I don't think we like one more than the other.

Or on the recent comments from Colts career sacks leader Dwight Freeney, who is now a free agent and has expressed interest in playing for New York, the team he grew up watching in Connecticut.

"We investigate everything," Reese said.

But for the most part, Reese did little to shed light on what the Giants would do before the free agent market opens March 12.

"We keep all our options open," Reese said when asked about team owner John Mara's comments that New York wouldn't use the franchise tag this year. "John and Steve Tisch own the team, they can say whatever they want. But I would like to say we would like to keep all of our options open with respect to that."

-- Michael Marot

Non-Combine News

Titans' first priority? Keeping Cook around

The Tennessee Titans already have signed their first free agent, taking advantage of a salary cap move to add safety George Wilson to their defense.

Before they dive into free agency in March, they face one of their biggest challenges in keeping tight end Jared Cook off the market. Doing that means signing him to a new deal by Friday or tagging him as a franchise player.

"We feel he's a big part of us having success next year is having him in the offense and using him in different ways ... with the changes we made on the offensive side of the ball," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "We feel can give him an opportunity to catch more balls and be more productive and maybe have him be more efficient with the plays he's in there."

The Titans have a handful of players heading for free agency including kicker Rob Bironas and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. But Munchak, speaking at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, described the 6-foot-5, 248-pound Cook as someone the Titans feel very strongly about keeping.

Munchak is in a must-win mode in his third season after going 6-10 in 2012. He has swapped up his coaching staff, including bringing in Gregg Williams as a senior assistant for defense.

Tennessee started adding players Friday by agreeing to a reported two-year deal Friday with Wilson, released Feb. 11 by Buffalo to avoid his $2.9 million salary. That's the first step in adding more talent and experience to a defense that had too many injuries and too much youth as the Titans allowed a franchise-record 471 points.

Cook is key for an offense where quarterback Jake Locker got hurt in the first game and showed little development in his first season as a starter.

"Jake's done a good job," general manager Ruston Webster said. "He has all the talent to be a fine player. One of the things we have to do is have more consistency around him."

Team officials wanted to talk with Cook's agent during the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Cook's agent, Christina Phillips, didn't immediately return a message from The Associated Press on Saturday.

Signing Cook to a long-term deal could be challenging before Friday's deadline to use the franchise tag. Cook caught 44 passes for 523 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, ranking him fourth on the team in both catches and yards despite missing three games after tearing his right rotator cuff Dec. 9 in a loss at Indianapolis.

The Titans want to use Cook even more as a receiving threat under new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who took over after Munchak fired Chris Palmer on Nov. 26. Cook had not been happy under Palmer, though he carefully watched what he said about the offense.

Even so, Tennessee lined Cook up in the slot and outside preferring to use Craig Stevens or Taylor Thompson more as blocking tight ends. So if the Titans tag him as a tight end, Cook could argue he deserves the higher paying tag of a wide receiver.

Webster said they always have wanted to keep Cook and nothing has changed. Asked if he thought the Titans could sign Cook to a long-term contract or use the franchise tag, Webster said he thinks Cook will be with the Titans this season.

"He's a big part of our offense so how it gets done we'll just have to see," Webster said.

If the Titans can reach a deal with Cook by Friday, that might allow them to tag Bironas, whose four-year, $12 million deal signed in 2009 is expiring. Bironas could be cheaper without the tag after missing six of his 31 field goal attempts last season.

Munchak said what they can't control is when players are ready to talk and work out a deal.

"Most players when they get this close to free agency want to test the market," Munchak said. "That's why we fought for it. I was a part of two strikes to get free agency available for these guys. So a lot of times guys want to wait it out and see. It doesn't mean they don't want to be here, and it doesn't mean we don't want them."

-- Teresa M. Walker

Bills extend contract of assistant GM Whaley

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills have extended the contract of assistant general manager Doug Whaley, smoothing the transition for him to eventually replace GM Buddy Nix.

The team announced the contract signing Saturday night while Whaley and Bills executives were attending the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

Whaley, who also serves as the Bills' director of player personnel, completed his third season in Buffalo after spending 12 seasons in various scouting positions with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 73-year-old Nix has identified Whaley as his eventual successor. Nix, however, has provided no indication as to when he might relinquish the job.

Team president and CEO Russ Brandon said there is no timetable set for a transition.

Bears hire Groh as receivers coach

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears have hired Mike Groh as their receivers coach.

Groh spent the past two seasons as Alabama's receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, helping the Crimson Tide win back-to-back national championships. He also served as an offensive graduate assistant at Alabama in 2009 and coached quarterbacks at Louisville in 2010. Before that, Groh worked as an assistant at his alma mater Virginia from 2001-08, coaching quarterbacks and receivers and serving as offensive coordinator for three seasons.

The Bears announced the hiring on Saturday. The move completes new coach Marc Trestman's staff.

McDaniel is Redskins new wide receivers coach

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Mike McDaniel is the Washington Redskins' new wide receivers coach. He replaces Ike Hilliard, who left Washington after two seasons to work for the Buffalo Bills.

McDaniel has been an offensive assistant with the Redskins the last two seasons. He worked for the Houston Texans from 2006-08. The Redskins announced McDaniel's new job Saturday.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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