Notre Dame's Manti Te'o ranked among the nation's best freshman linebackers in 2009, racking up 63 tackles in 12 games, nine of them starts. And during last Saturday's Blue-Gold Game, he looked like the smoothest and most dominant Fighting Irish player. Te'o spoke with reporters afterward, including Sporting News' Dave Curtis, about the team's spring under new coach Brian Kelly.
Question: How would you sum up the progress you guys have made?
Manti Te'o: We're making great strides as a team. It's a big step to come in front of all the fans to show what we can do, and it's great to come back into the stadium. But this spring has been a great experience, too, for the coaches and for the players. We grew a lot from it.
Q: How are you feeling about the new defensive scheme?
MT: I'm getting more comfortable as days go by. I still have lot to work on, but I'm feeling better and making more plays.
Q: You guys kept it pretty vanilla today? What did the defense get out of the scrimmage?
MT: We're taught by (new defensive coordinator) Bob Diaco that it's not about the call, it's what you do with the call. We knew we all had to get to the ball, and when we get to the ball, everybody has to rally. So it didn't really matter to us.
Q: What will the defense look like when you guys aren't limited?
MT: Well, I guess you'll have to wait until fall. We have a great defense, and everybody's heard the defense is pretty nasty. But all the fans will have to wait until fall to see how we go.
Q: Are you guys faster, better tacklers? How do you see differences?
MT: Everybody gets to the ball, and of course, through our conditioning and weight training with coach (Paul) Longo, we are faster and we are stronger and we can last longer. We have whole new mentality toward the game.
Q: Coach Kelly keeps talking about a process. How long is this process going to take?
MT: I'm not sure, but I'm pretty positive that throughout summer training, and that process, we'll be getting pretty close to our goal. I don't think you can put a time limit on it.
Q: What's expected of you this year?
MT: I'm not sure what's expected, but I expect a lot from myself. To be a leader for my team and motivate my teammates, and to try to be the best defensive player I can.
Q: Do you feel like this year's defense has better chemistry than last year's?
MT: I wouldn't say this year was better, but we get along a lot more. There's a whole new philosophy and a whole new environment, and we're all buying into it. So I would say, yeah, maybe it is a little bit better.
Q: What's been the greatest challenge in adapting to a new staff?
MT: Just not being complacent. There are going to be some bumps in the road and some obstacles you have to overcome. But you can't stop there.
Q: What's it like going against No. 9 (Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph)?
Q: What did you make about coach Kelly's comments about you, where he talked about your potential?
MT: Just being coach—he always wants the best for players. I understood I wasn't at the level I wanted to be at last year. I was young. He knew that, I knew that, and for him to expect the best out of me, it just shows what kind of head coach he is.
Q: What are your observations of Kelly?
MT: I'm just glad coach Kelly runs this fast-paced offense. No other offense will be as fast-paced as us. He's a great head coach, a lot of experience. He expects the best out of us and does whatever he can to get the best out of us.
Q: How would you describe his style?
MT: He's always with the team. Right in the huddle. He's always critiquing us after every play. But he still lets us make our mistakes and try to learn from them. He's in the middle of all of us.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with your dad?
MT: I check in with my dad all the time. He's a great guy and great coach himself. He taught me everything I know. When people are amazed that I can make certain plays on the field, it's because of him. He texts me during halftime of games: "This is what you're doing, this is what you could do." He still gives me advice so I can be the best player I can be and I can be the tool coach Kelly needs for the defense. I talk to him about mistakes and good plays.
Junior QB Everett Golson didn't put up any staggering numbers in Notre Dame's 84th annual Blue-Gold game, but Keith Arnold writes in the spring edition of Five Things that numbers can't show how much he's improved in the offseason as a leader.
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