INDIANAPOLIS — San Diego Chargers GM Tom Telesco is one of the league's youngest general managers, but that didn't stop him from having a strong first season in his post with the team.
But it was not a first draft as the head guy in 2013 without controversy. In the second round, the Chargers traded up to draft Manti Te'o — the most dissected player in last year's class, and some of it was about football even.
The bizarre girlfriend story involving Te'o took on a life of its own a year ago, and his press conference was the most talked-about event of last year's scouting combine. This year, it's very likely that there will be similarities to the Te'o press conference and the expected crowd for Missouri DE Michael Sam.
Sam recently revealed that he is gay, which would make him the first openly gay player in the NFL if he can make a team's roster this fall. The Sam press conference will happen on Saturday, and one major difference is this: With Te'o last year, media sought answers to the dozens of questions they and fans everywhere had. Sam already has spoken about his sexuality, and thus much of the story is already out there.
Telesco was asked about how Te'o handled his rookie season — a fairly nondescript one considering the pre-draft madness — from a mental perspective, and it was all passing grades for the Chargers rookie as far as the GM is concerned.
"He has handled himself well," Telesco said. "That was what we expected. I think the big thing, he has some great support along the way. We have a great PR staff. … We have a very strong head coach in Mike McCoy and great leadership in the locker room, and that helps.
"Manti is very smart and mature and can handle situations off the field, being a very smooth situation for him."
Sam is regarded by his teammates and coaches at Mizzou as being strong-willed, and Missouri OT Justin Britt said he believes Sam will be ready for the attention he'll get — not only Saturday at the combine but also in an NFL locker room.
"Mike's a good guy," Britt said. "He's a guy who speaks from his heart. He'll tell you how he feels and when he feels it. I don't think he would have done that on national TV if he didn't have the courage to [face the questions about his sexuality.
"He's a really good teammate. He's respectful and loyal, someone I can call a brother."
Several NFL teams issued statements following Sam's announcement, and they had a familiar hymn to them — basically that the teams applauded Sam's bravery but that he, like every other prospect, will be evaluated on what he did on the field.
Telesco was able to evaluate Te'o that way and said it's the primary area of focus, even when issues come up with players that have nothing to do with their football ability.
"The overriding factor is always, can the player play? And then [you have to] make sure you put him in the right situation," Telesco said. "I talked [earlier] about [Chargers running back] Danny Woodhead and his passion for the game, and that’s all important. But in the end, you have to be able to play football in this league."
Perhaps that's the question NFL teams will have to ask about Sam, and not about his well-publicized sexuality.
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