DAVIE, Fla. A leadership vacuum may have contributed to the troubled relationship between Miami Dolphins offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, which has left both players sidelined and the team in turmoil.
The ongoing saga has raised questions about whether coach Joe Philbin and his staff were negligent in allowing issues between Martin and Incognito to fester. Current and ex-players around the NFL say the situation reflects a lack of leadership because teammates of Martin and Incognito didn't intervene.
Meanwhile, the Sun Sentinel newspaper of Fort Lauderdale reported that.
The paper cites sources that say that communication took place when Martin skipped two days of the team's Organized Team Activity Program. The paper reports, "Incognito was encouraged by coaches to make a call that would 'get him into the fold,' one source said."
NFL officials are trying to determine who knew what when, and whether Incognito harassed or bullied Martin. A second-year tackle from Stanford, Martin left the team last week and is with his family in California to undergo counseling for emotional issues. Before returning to California, Martin checked himself into a Florida hospital to be treated for emotional distress, league sources told ESPN.
Incognito has been suspended indefinitely.
The team built by Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland has undergone heavy roster turnover after losing records each of the past four years. Of the 53 players on the squad, 20 are new to Miami this season.
"That's the one thing I've heard from every single former player ... there's a lack of leadership," said Jimmy Cefalo, a former Dolphins receiver and now their play-by-play announcer. "They might step in with Richie and say, 'Look, this has got to change.'"
The Dolphins' oldest player, 34-year-old John Denney, is a long snapper who sees little action. The second-oldest, 34-year-old Bryant McKinnie, has been with the team less than three weeks. The third-oldest, 31-year-old Tyson Clabo, joined the Dolphins this year.
In 2012 the team's player leadership council included Reggie Bush, Karlos Dansby and Jake Long, all of whom left after last season. Their replacements were second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, newcomer Dannell Ellerbe - and Incognito.
A local Fort Lauderdale news station caught up with Incognito outside his home in Fort Lauderdale and Incognito said that he's simply "trying to weather the storm" at the moment.
"You know what, I'm just trying to weather the storm right now," Incognito said Tuesday. "This will pass."
Incognito's harassment of Martin, CBSSports.com has confirmed. The Dolphins and NFL haven't disclosed the nature of the misconduct that led to Incognito's suspension.
Meanwhile, NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp claims he was once called the n-word by Incognito during a game.
"One time he kicked me in a game and called me the n-word," Sapp said on The Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday. Sapp, who said he was unfazed by the slur, said he thought Incognito was trying to provoke him to fight and get thrown out of the game.
An assertive veteran might have prevented any problems from escalating, said former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson, now an analyst with NFL Network.
"In every locker room there are jerks; we all have them," Tomlinson said. "But at the same time, there are always guys that can go and talk to that jerk and say, 'You're going overboard.' My problem is Miami doesn't have that guy. ...
"If you're a player in that locker room, there has to be someone there to be able to step up and help that guy. You know the personnel of the guys in your locker room a lot of times - the leaders do - and if a guy can't defend himself and isn't capable of standing up for himself, it is up to the guys in that locker room to say, 'Hey man, let's not go there' or 'You're going too far.'"
Also under scrutiny is the role of offensive line coach Jim Turner, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who is in his first NFL job. It was his job to groom Martin, a second-round draft choice from Stanford who won a starting job as a rookie last year but developed a reputation for lacking toughness.
The Dolphins this week canceled a scheduled interview session with Turner.