DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins returned Monday to what several players insisted was a “unified” locker room in which everything was “good.”
The Dolphins practiced a day after guard Richie Incognito was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. Incognito’s suspension came six days after offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the team reportedly after persistent bullying from within.
“This is a unified locker room,” defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. “We’re all happy to come to work today and get better.”
“I’ve been here for quite a while, and the locker room’s been fine as far as I’m concerned,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “Then again, you’re talking about me, I can’t speak for anybody else.”
“I think the chemistry is fine, from how I see it,” rookie tight end Dion Sims said. “Everybody gets along well, and I think everything is good.”
Despite the supposed healthy environment, FOX Sports reported the Dolphins and NFL Players Association were told Incognito sent Martin text messages and left him voicemails that were both threatening and racially charged in nature.
Coach Joe Philbin began his press conference by offering “a little bit of a background” on the past week’s events. He said he “had a good discussion” with Martin last Monday evening and was in contact with the player and his family throughout the week and weekend.
“In all my discussions with Jonathan and members of his family, at no time were there any accusations or allegations of misconduct by any members of this team or this organization,” Philbin said. “Later on Sunday, we were contacted by one of his representatives where they in fact had some concerns about player conduct that had occurred.”
Philbin said Dolphins owner Steve Ross contacted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and requested the league investigate, which it will. The coach added he suspended Incognito “based on the information that I had at that time.”
None of the players who spoke to the media admitted to reading or hearing the texts or voicemails Incognito is alleged to have sent. The players said they had been off enjoying a few off days following Thursday night’s win against Cincinnati.
But everyone in locker room Monday knew it was not a normal start to the week. Miami will play at Tampa Bay next Monday night.
“Obviously, there’s like 2,000 (media people) in here right now — that’s the only thing really affecting us, that we can’t even get dressed,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “Besides that, I’m good. I’m ready to move on and look forward to this Monday night game.”
Players expressed support for both Martin and Incognito, two men whose lockers looked as if they were still with the team.
“I love Richie, man,” Wallace said. “I personally think he’s a great guy. He’s an intense guy — everybody knows that. I don’t feel like he did anything he wouldn’t do on a regular basis. I don’t think he was out of hand, I think he just being Richie.”
Incognito was one of six players who composed the Dolphins leadership committee.
“I played with him a few years, and he’s a helluva football player,” Wake said. “He never had a problem with me, but you have to ask every guy individually, and again, I can’t speak for anybody else.”
“I don’t look at him as being a racist or anything like that,” said left tackle Bryant McKinnie, acquired from Baltimore on Oct. 21. “It could have been in a joking manner, I don’t know how it was delivered or received.”
The tone of comments about Martin were more offering concern.
“You never know what somebody’s going through,” Wallace said, “so I’m not going to jump to conclusions and judge him. Me personally, I’m fine with him.”
Odrick was asked if Martin would be welcomed back.
“I hope everything he’s going through gets cleared up and he’s able to continue his career,” Odrick said. “That people are able to continue their careers the way they want to and everything is cleared up. I hope the best for everybody.”
Several players said they hadn’t realized there was a problem between the two linemen, who played next to each other on the line’s left side for the first six games this season.
“It was a good vibe. We never really experienced anything like that,” Wallace said. “I feel like it was always a good vibe with the team. You never know what somebody’s going through. It’s just an unfortunate situation.”
“I felt like everybody got along. I didn’t see any signs of this potentially happening,” McKinnie said. “And as of right now, everybody’s still focused on preparing for Tampa Bay. Those guys aren’t here right now, so we can’t really keep dwelling on that and we don’t want it to become a distraction.”
Martin reportedly left the team a week ago after a prank in the team’s cafeteria.
“People have bad days, maybe it was bad day. He just wasn’t feeling it, I really don’t know,” Wallace said. “I don’t feel like it was anything out of the ordinary. I don’t feel like anybody was being bullied, hazed, none of that. I feel like we were doing things that football teams do.”
Dolphins players downplayed hazing, which has been a common practice in NFL locker rooms, especially where rookies are concerned.
“I haven’t experienced anything like that,” rookie cornerback Will Davis said. “I’ve had a great time since I’ve been here, even with the guys, even with the vets … this is all kind of a shock to me.”
“Everybody that I know has done it,” Wake said. “To some degree, it comes back. Maybe I had to buy soap for (Jason Taylor) when he was here, now Dion (Jordan) maybe buys me soap. Is that something I hope he’s not having a problem with that you can ask him about. But, at the same time, I’m giving back to him — maybe it’s telling him how to get this play, or maybe where to go to buy a suit. Hand washing hand.”
“It’s a fraternity that you benefit from. It’s probably the best fraternity that I can think of, and the membership to me is well worth it.”
Veteran McKinnie added the fraternity should be able to control itself.
“I feel like the players can police themselves — that’s the sign of a good team,” McKinnie said. “Sometimes, you don’t have to always run to the coach for everything. Players, your leaderships, should be able to step up and police the situation themselves.”