Miami Dolphins

Bullygate principal Richie Incognito, now 'a better person,' returns to face Dolphins Sunday

Buffalo Bills guard Richie Incognito walks the sidelines during the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Buffalo Bills guard Richie Incognito walks the sidelines during the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in Orchard Park, N.Y. AP

Get ready to relive Bullygate, South Florida.

Richie Incognito is coming to town.

The center of the team’s 2013 bullying scandal returns to Miami Sunday for the first time since his Dolphins suspension — and his 2014 NFL exile.

Now a member of the Buffalo Bills, Incognito probably has a lot to say about Joe Philbin, Ted Wells and Jonathan Martin. But he won’t be doing it to South Florida reporters until game day.

The Bills have made sure of that. In the words of radio personality Joe Rose — who spoke privately with Incognito recently — the Bills have “muzzled” their controversial left guard this week.

The organization declined a request by South Florida media to have Incognito speak via conference call Wednesday, instead making Charles Clay available.

But there’s no stopping his former teammates from weighing in. And no current or past Dolphin knows Incognito better than Mike Pouncey, who was also reprimanded by Wells for engaging in “a pattern of harassment” during and before the 2013 season.

While Incognito is long gone, he and Pouncey remain close friends.

He’s developed from that. I think it’s made him a better person on the football field.

Dolphins center

Pouncey spoke affectionately about Incognito Tuesday at the weekly Touchdown Club luncheon, which is now in its 15th season.

“It’s so tough,” Pouncey said. “Richie was a big brother to me when I came into the NFL. He kind of took me under his wing. I just can’t wait to see him. He went through a tough patch in his life.”

Pouncey suggested that Incognito was in line for a big contract before the scandal, but that payday obviously vanished. He became far too toxic for the Dolphins to keep. Incognito spent the 2014 season trying to get a job.

Finally in the spring, new Bills coach Rex Ryan gave Incognito his last shot; Incognito signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract before the season. He has since been on his best behavior, and not only starts at left guard for Buffalo, but is playing at a high level.

According to Pro Football Focus, Incognito ranks second among all NFL guards thus far this year; by way of comparison, Dolphins guards Jamil Douglas and Dallas Thomas rank 56th and 58th, respectively.

“He’s developed from that,” Pouncey said. “I think it’s made him a better person on the football field. When you watch him on film, he’s playing the game the right way. I wish him nothing but success.”

Pouncey has similarly evolved since the divisive 2013 season, and the Dolphins rewarded him for doing so with a five year, $44.8 million contract extension in the spring — one he wasn’t sure he would ever get.

“There was doubt in my mind at times,” Pouncey said. “I feel like there was a lot of things in my career I could have done a lot better. ... I think being a professional athlete is more than being a football player. It’s about being a role model in the community. When you have a platform, you can show people there’s a way out from a hard life. I finally figured it out. Now I’m trying to be the best role model that I can be.”

Pouncey was full of interesting information both before and during his 13-minute address to Dolphins fans at the Fort Lauderdale Bokampers on Tuesday.

▪ He believes the Dolphins are better than the Jaguars team that beat Miami Sunday, adding: “We’re more bummed about it than our fans are. I’ll tell you one thing: This team is going to be ready to go this weekend.”

▪ Pouncey defended the play of Thomas, saying that the offensive line failures have been collective. He did add, with a laugh, that he hopes the Dolphins don’t move him to guard like they did a year ago.

▪ Pouncey on the negative vibe surrounding Miami’s 1-1 start: “I think we have all the talent in our room to be successful. It’s bothering me right now, with all the noise. ... It’s rollover from last season, so it bothers me. I hate to panic at Week 2, because it’s such a long football season. We haven’t even played a division game yet.”

▪ But if the season goes south, many in Miami will turn on Philbin (assuming they haven’t already). But Pouncey won’t be one of them.

“Every time I’ve had a bump in the road, he’s been the first guy to come to me,” Pouncey said. “He’s never turned his back on me. He’s always coached me about, not just being a football player. He’s always coached me on things outside of football, how to be a better father, how to be a better role model in the community. I’ll never turn my back on him.”

▪ Pouncey, on the team’s 34 rushes for 116 yards through two games: “Right now, our running game has been nonexistent, and it’s one of the reasons we’re struggling.”

News and notes

▪ The Dolphins on Tuesday announced the first five names on their list of top 50 all-time players. They are: Dick Anderson, Mark Clayton, Mark Duper, O.J. McDuffie and Jake Scott.

▪ The Dolphins plan to sign linebacker/special teams contributor Terrell Manning, the Houston Chronicle first reported. Manning was briefly on the Dolphins’ practice squad in 2014.

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