DAVIE, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Unaccustomed to interviews because he’s a backup tackle, Will Yeatman stood before a couple of dozen reporters and cameramen, beads of sweat rolling down his forehead under the hot TV lights.
When the questions about the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal quit coming, Yeatman sagged in the chair at his locker, relieved to be out of the media glare.
“Whew,” he said with a nervous chuckle, shaking his head.
The Dolphins (4-4) have endured a week of withering scrutiny while trying to prepare for a game that is very much and afterthought outside their locker room. They’ll play Monday night at Tampa Bay (0-8), happy to shift the focus from their troubled locker room to the playing field, if only for a few hours.
While the Buccaneers are winless, the Dolphins have descended into something worse — a team under NFL investigation because of a bullying case that’s national news. Tackle Jonathan Martin left the team last week and complained he endured daily abuse from teammates, including guard Richie Incognito, who was suspended.
Martin will meet late next week in Los Angeles with the NFL’s special investigator, a person familiar with the situation said Friday. The person confirmed the upcoming meeting to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the league and team haven’t announced the details of the investigation.
Meeting with Martin will be Ted Wells, a senior partner in a New York law firm who was appointed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to investigate possible misconduct in the Dolphins’ workplace.
The case threatens to sabotage the season, leaving the Dolphins missing two starters in an offensive line that played poorly even with them, while the team copes with the distraction of seemingly endless revelations and rumors.
They’ve been impossible to ignore, as coach Joe Philbin knows, because he tried.
“Unfortunately I called my 92-year-old father, and he was on the computer, so I had to tell him to get off the computer,” Philbin said.
Oddsmakers don’t expect this week’s developments to have a big effect. The Dolphins opened as 3½-point favorites before the case mushroomed into a full-blown scandal, and they’re now favored by 2½ points.
Perhaps the Dolphins will channel all of the surrounding negative energy into a positive performance. Weary of fending off endless questions, they’ve defended Incognito, Philbin and their locker room culture, speaking with a passion often lacking in their play this year.
The team showed signs of dissension during a recent four-game losing streak, but the constant stream of allegations in the media have served as a unifying force.
“They’re attacking our coach. They’re attacking the values of the rest of the people in this locker room. And they have the mike last,” receiver Brian Hartline said. “We’re kind of tired of it.”
While Hartline complained the team had been “bullied” by the media, other players wryly noted the lack of interest in the upcoming game. Defensive end Cameron Wake patiently parried a succession of questions from reporters, all about Martin and Incognito, then smiled when a pause came.
“Nobody cares about Tampa, huh?” he said.
The Dolphins do care about the Bucs, Wake said, and can shut out everything else.
“Football is full of distractions, whether it’s the tweak in your ankle, the heat, snow, the rain, the mud, the guy across from you,” he said. “All this stuff that’s going on outside is kind of the same as the crowd noise on third down. We have to deal with it. It’s all a part of the business, and you have to make sure you do your job.”
Doing the job has been a problem for the offensive line, which has given up an NFL-high 35 sacks while struggling to create running room. And now the starting lineup in the front five will change for the third game in a row.
Center Mike Pouncey and right guard John Jerry have been the only season-long constants. Bryant McKinnie will start his third game at left tackle since being acquired in a trade with Minnesota. Tyson Clabo will start at right tackle after being benched two weeks ago. Nate Garner will make his first start of the year at left guard in place of Incognito.
Yeatman may see occasional action as a sixth lineman, which he did in last week’s win over Cincinnati.
“Everyone’s focused on doing their job, and everyone’s job is to block the man across from them,” Yeatman said, trying to ignore those beads of sweat.
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