NFL notebook: Combine spotlight focuses on Te’o

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o answers a question during a news conference at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) Show caption
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o answers a question during a news conference at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS — 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 in the Internet romance he had with a girlfriend he never met, and again he tried to turn the page on an embarrassing chapter by talking football. This time, he even got to see it play out on television 12 yards away — where three muted flat-screen monitors were in his direct view.

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

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

The only thing that really matters now 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.

Still, team officials are taking notes.

“Honestly, it’s a distraction,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “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. ... The bottom line is, is he a good person, and can he play football?”

Te’o said he 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.”

Bears

CHICAGO ADDS BAMA ASSISTANT: The Chicago Bears hired Mike Groh as receivers coach.

Groh spent the past two seasons as Alabama’s receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, helping the Crimson Tide win back-to-back BCS championships. He also was an offensive graduate assistant at Alabama in 2009 and coached quarterbacks at Louisville in 2010.

Before that, Groh was an assistant at his alma mater, Virginia, from 2001-08, coaching quarterbacks and receivers and serving as offensive coordinator for three seasons.