Fluker, Te'o Will Make Immediate Impact
By Andrew Burer
Manti Te’o and D.J. Fluker are ready start in the NFL.
And with the departures of veterans Takeo Spikes and Louis Vasquez, the San Diego Charger rookies are primed for a significant number of snaps in their first seasons at football’s highest level.
How well each player does remains to be seen, but both should have plenty of opportunities to make an immediate impact.
Te’o comes in with more hype and perhaps more potential, but Fluker is the more important piece to the Chargers’ puzzle. San Diego will have at least three different starters on the offensive line this year (four if you count Jeromey Clary, who is moving from right tackle to right guard) so getting Fluker acclimated to NFL speed is imperative.
“He’s doing a great job of learning the system,” head coach Mike McCoy said of the Alabama product. “It’s completely different from what he’s been doing, obviously, and he’s just taking it one day at a time. He works extremely hard in doing everything the way you ask him to do it. … He’s bought into everything we’re doing, and you wish everyone worked like him.”
Like most of the linemen on the Chargers roster, Fluker has worked with both the first and second units during minicamp. McCoy likes to call it an open competition for the best five guys, but the Chargers didn’t use their first-round pick on a player who is not ready to play right away. He’ll get his chances.
Te’o, the 2012 Heisman Trophy runner-up, has also been impressive in OTAs and minicamp this year. Despite all of Teo’s baggage, the linebacker’s worth ethic and attitude have been praised since the Chargers drafted him.
“I feel like he’s got great instincts,” said quarterback Philip Rivers. “He has a knack. There’s certain things that I’ve seen when we’re going against him and then from watching the tape that you can’t coach. He has some of those things -- just instincts, whether he’s shooting a gap, the technique he played on trying to cover a guy, he has that ability that’s hard to coach so that’s a real positive.”
Te’o should anchor the middle of the defense this year with fellow linebacker Donald Butler. But unlike Butler, who was eased into third-down situations over the course of his first two full seasons (he missed all of his rookie year due to injury), the Chargers hope Te’o is ready to be a three-down middle linebacker right away.
Fortunately for San Diego, there’s no better player for Te’o to practice coverage against than future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates.
“For me to go against guys out here like Antonio Gates, who’s a future Hall of Famer, and to compete with him every day, it’s only going to get me better,” Te’o said after the first day of mandatory minicamp.
The Chargers certainly hope he keeps improving. Te’o worked with the first unit most of the first two days of minicamp and will likely do the same come training camp.