Davie, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said an accurate description of the offensive linemen at the center of a bullying scandal would be that they were like best friends and brothers.
"If you asked Jonathan Martin a week before who his best friend is he would have said Richie Incognito," Tannehill said Wednesday, responding to questions about the alleged bullying that led Martin to abruptly leave the team last week and the Dolphins to suspend Incognito indefinitely on Sunday.
"I would say Jonathan is like Richie's little brother," Tannehill said. "I think that's an accurate description. He gave him a hard time, he messed with him, but he was the first guy to have his back."
Incognito is accused of using a racial slur against Martin and threatening violence against him and his mother in a voicemail Martin turned over to the NFL, which is investigating the matter.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said if the NFL decides there was wrongdoing the team "will take all necessary measures to fix it and to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Tannehill called Incognito "a great teammate to me" said the nine-year veteran guard brought a lot of laughter and cohesiveness to the locker room.
"He's the best teammate you could ask for," Tannehill said.
Tannehill added he didn't sense there was anything wrong with the relationship between Incognito and Martin and said Incognito called Martin "like my little brother."
"As a leader you want to step in and help," Tannehill said. He said he would have stepped in if he knew that Martin was struggling but "you can't help a situation you didn't know existed or that anyone knew existed."
The Sun Sentinel newspaper in Florida reported on Tuesday that Incognito was instructed by coaches to "toughen up" his fellow lineman after Martin missed a voluntary workout in the spring but that Incognito may have taken the orders too far.
"I was never told that, never heard of that," Tannehill said. "I just heard today that that concept was being thrown out."
The situation has raised questions about leadership in the Miami locker room but Tannehill said no one knew Martin might have been in trouble.
Martin, a second-round draft pick in 2012, has sought treatment for emotional distress.
"It's tough to see warning signs when a guy doesn't change," said Tannehill, who described Martin as a quiet teammate and said it was a shock when he left the team last week after a lunchroom prank in which teammates got up from a table when Martin sat down.
Tannehill said he would welcome both players back to the team, saying: "Both guys have their rights and wrongs. If they chose to come back, I'm big on forgiving people."
Incognito, according to the transcript of a message he reportedly left Martin in April, called his teammate a "half-(racial slur)" and said he would slap Martin's mother across the face. Incognito also told Martin, "I'll kill you."
Philbin said the offensive words "aren't part of my vocabulary."
Philbin and Tannehill both expressed their desire to focus on Monday night's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Right now," Tannehill said, "we're focusing on sticking together as a team and having each other's backs as a team and getting ready for a game."
Tannehill said his teammates weren't discussing the situation on Wednesday as much as they had been in previous days, even as reports continued to trickle out about the culture of the Dolphins' locker room.
He spoke hours after the Miami Herald, citing multiple sources, reported that Incognito was accepted as an "honorary black man" in the locker room and that Dolphins players of color "expressed no problems with Incognito."
Many current and former NFL players and coaches have expressed surprise at how far the alleged bullying of Martin went and said it's the responsibility of a team's veteran leadership to handle such situations.
The NFL said Wednesday it has named New York attorney Ted Wells to lead an independent investigation of workplace conduct in the Dolphins organization.
"Under league policy, all employees have the right to a workplace free of any form of harassment," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "We are fully committed to an appropriate working environment for all NFL personnel."