SAN DIEGO -- Middle linebacker Manti Te'o hauled in an interception in the flat during team drills Wednesday and was inches from making a similar play Thursday.
Teammate Eric Weddle said those two plays are prime examples of impact plays that Te'o did not have the experience to make in his rookie season, and the reason more is expected from him in 2014.
"Those two plays he would have never done last year, just because he didn't know any better, for one,” Weddle said. "Two, he's letting his instincts take over and his feel of the game. He understands what his role is, and it's awesome to watch.”
Te'o said the learning experience and reps gained his rookie season helped him play faster during training camp. He also said he's fully healthy after offseason surgery to fix a fractured foot that slowed him down his rookie season.
And finally, Te'o worked on sculpting his body and leaning down his 6-1 frame to 235 from 240 pounds, the weight he played at during a standout final season at Notre Dame. Te'o said during his rookie season he hovered around 245 pounds.
"It goes back to my senior year in college,” Te'o said. "When I was leaner, I was able to make sure that reaction time when my mind told my body to move was less. And so my body being in good shape, I'm able to react and move when I want to. So when my eyes see something and I want to break on it, I'm able to do that.”
Weddle has noticed the difference.
"He's light years ahead of last year,” the veteran safety said. "Obviously, it's hard to come in as a rookie and play the way you expect to play. You're thinking so much and you're trying to adjust. It's a different animal. The NFL is no joke.
"You live and learn, and you learn from the good times and the bad times. But with Manti it's never about his work ethic. It's never about him being coachable. It's just about him feeling comfortable.”
Te'o missed most of exhibition play and the first three regular-season games of his rookie season with what was initially reported as a sprained foot. Te'o returned against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 and was immediately placed in the starting lineup.
He showed rust in the first four games, but his overall play improved the second half of the season. Te'o was fifth on the team last year with 61 combined tackles but finished without a sack, interception or forced fumble in his rookie season.
Te'o led Notre Dame with 113 tackles and seven interceptions his final college season, finishing runner-up to Johnny Manziel in voting for the 2012 Heisman Trophy.
San Diego coach Mike McCoy believes that Te'o can become that type of playmaker again with consistent work at the NFL level.
"He did a nice job last year, but there were times when he played a little slow -- and he'd tell you that from watching the film after the season was over,” McCoy said. "Now he understands the scheme a lot better than he did last year, because he's played. He's definitely playing faster this year, which is what you would expect.”
Te'o says that comfort and experience should lead to a better production in his second season.
"It's all about knowing where I got to be and why I got to be there,” Te'o said. "Knowing how the offense is trying to attack us as a defense, and knowing the different places I got to be at. It's definitely good.”