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Schaap tells Te’o’s story, who admits he never met fake, dead girlfriend

AP

Under the guise of a “get,” ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap has been enlisted as an unofficial P.R. agent for linebacker Manti Te’o.  And Schaap spent extensive time on SportsCenter presenting Te’o’s side of the story, serving as the indirect mouthpiece for a man who claims no involvement in a hoax but who after months of talking freely and loosely on camera suddenly has no desire to do so.

Schaap opened his extensive on-air monologue by vouching for Te’o’s credibility.

“He answered every question I asked,” Schaap said.  “He didn’t seem nervous.  He seemed to be able to communicate clearly about everything that had happened over the course of several years in his relationship with Lennay Kekua.  To my ears, he made a very convincing witness in his own defense.  I’m sure people will form their own judgments when we have a chance to put out more of what he said.  I don’t know how many questions were asked, but as I said he answered all of them, really unflinchingly.  If he’s making up his side of the story, he’s a very convincing actor.  Of course, there were suggestions over the last couple of days — more than suggestions, theories posited — about whether he was a party to this hoax, if he just helped perpetuate this hoax.  He adamantly denies having anything to do with it, and I asked him directly about that.”

After Schaap explained the situation for roughly 10 minutes, he was asked about Te’o’s demeanor.

“He was very composed, he was very collected,” Schaap said.  “There wasn’t any hemming or hawing.  He certainly seemed to have his timeline down straight.  I did not detect any inconsistencies.  And I think, you know, significantly from his point of view anyway, when it was over he was relieved.  He said he was very relieved to have unburdened himself of this.”

Schaap vouched for Te’o’s  credibility once again in explaining why Te’o didn’t want to do the interview on camera.

“Obviously we would have preferred to do this on camera,” Schaap said.  “He felt more comfortable in a setting without cameras, felt he could be more relaxed without a lot of people in the room.  Wanted this to be as natural a setting as possible.  I think it would have been beneficial to him to do this on camera because as I said he was very composed and collected but that’s not what he wanted to do.  It’s not the first time somebody hasn’t wanted to do an interview on camera.”

Schaap is right, but it’s the first time the otherwise camera-eager Te’o has spurned a camera.  And so instead of giving the audience at large an opportunity to watch him explain himself, the conduit to Te’o’s overall credibility is the guy who was granted an interview that Te’o didn’t have to give at all.  That fact naturally will make the interviewer — whoever it is — more inclined to paint the subject of the interview in a positive light.

Indeed, a questioner less friendly to Te’o’s predicament could have led the report with this statement:  “Te’o admitted that he never met the fake dead girlfriend, and that he lied to his family about meeting her.”  Choosing to focus on that aspect of the interview at the outset of the report would have prompted many to instantly wonder whether, if he lied to his family about meeting her, he’s lying to the rest of us about his lack of involvement in the hoax.

“I knew that — I even knew, that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet, and that alone — people find out that this girl who died, I was so invested in, I didn’t meet her, as well,” Te’o told Schaap.  “So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn’t think that I was some crazy dude.”

In a court of law, having someone admit to a lie is powerful, because it gives the lawyer more than enough ammunition to argue that everything the person says shouldn’t be taken at face value, and possibly shouldn’t be believed at all.

And while Schaap claimed he detected no inconsistencies, Schaap’s explanation of Te’o’s ongoing references in the media to his dead girlfriend after learning that she wasn’t dead speaks to a stew of potential inconsistencies that, if fully and completely probed, could expose a flaw that would be fatal to Te’o’s entire story.

“[Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick] said that on December 6, Te’o got a phone call from a person who he believed to be Lennay Kekua, who he thought had died on September 12,” Schaap explained.  “Te’o says he did get that phone call on December 6, but that did not convince him that this had all been a hoax.  That took longer to get around to.  But between December 6 and December 26, when he went to Notre Dame to tell them about the problem, he continued to talk about Lennay Kekua, his girlfiend, in several interviews, including an interview with our Chris Fowler during the Heisman Trophy presentation on December 8th.  And [Te’o] explained why that happened, because he said he wasn’t convinced that Lennay Kekua hadn’t died, that she was a hoax, now he was thinking maybe she was alive.  She had given him some story about drug dealers.”

So why did he keep referring to her as being dead?

There are more tidbits that appeared not in Schaap’s on-air report (or in the original ESPN.com story that contained only 32 words from Te’o regarding his denial of involvement) that make us wonder how Te’o could have been oblivious to the existence of a hoax, which based on his admission that he lied to his father would cause a reasonable person to wonder whether he’s lying to the rest of us now.

First, the latest ESPN.com article says that “T’eo tried to speak with Kekua via Skype and FaceTime on several occasions, but the person at the other end of the line was in what he called a ‘black box’ and wasn’t seen.”  Second, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o “planned to meet Kekua in person several times, including in Los Angeles and Hawaii, but on each occasion she called off the meeting or sent others in her place.”  Third, the ESPN.com article explains that “Kekua once requested his checking account number in order to send him money,” but that “Te’o did not provide his account number.”  Fourth, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o didn’t go see her in the hospital when she was recovering from a car accident or battling leukemia because “it never crossed my mind” to do so.  Fifth, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o didn’t attend Kekua’s funeral because “her mom didn’t want me to come.”

Perhaps the strangest question arises from Te’o’s claim to Schaap that, as explained by Schaap on air, “[r]ight up until a few hours before the Deadspin story broke two days ago [Te’o] wasn’t quite sure what happened but at that time he got a phone call from Ronaiah Tuiasospo in which he admitted that he had perpetrated this hoax and in a series of communications also apologized for it.”  The notion that Te’o “wasn’t quite sure what happened” until “a few hours before” the story broke doesn’t mesh with the very clear picture painted Wednesday night by Swarbrick of extensive meetings and a private investigation with a comprehensive report, or with the reported plan by Te’o to go public with the hoax two days before the story broke.

The only conclusion that we draw from any of this is that it’s still too early to draw any conclusions.  Te’o’s uncle has raised a potential financial incentive via raising funds for leukemia victims hasn’t been explored and wasn’t even mentioned anywhere in the on-air or online ESPN reports.

If Tuiasosopo used the fake dead girlfriend as a way to raise money, with or without the knowledge or assistance of Te’o, the appropriate authorities should look into the situation.  Indeed, the request for checking account numbers could be enough to green light a criminal investigation.  A high-profile case like this one would, if any laws were broken, send a strong message of deterrence to anyone who is tempted to “catfish” not for sport, but for profit.

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Bill O’Brien, Rick Smith say Tom Savage is the starter

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The Texans made a big move up the draft board on Thursday night when they sent their 2018 first-round pick to the Browns for the chance to use the 12th overall pick on quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Houston had already sent their 2018 second-round pick to Cleveland as a way to erase Brock Osweiler from their roster, so one might think that mortgaging the future in that manner would give Watson the inside track on a starting job this year. Both Texans coach Bill O’Brien and General Manager Rick Smith say that isn’t the case.

O’Brien called Savage the starter after the Watson pick was announced and Smith said he was “comfortable” with Savage as the starter, whcih was what he said in his pre-draft press conference as well. Watson didn’t upset the apple cart when discussing his immediate future.

“All I need to do is put my head down, don’t say anything, learn from all the veterans, learn from Tom Savage, learn from Brandon Weeden and just play my role,” Watson said, via the Houston Chronicle. “Whatever my role is help the team win.”

It’s April, which means there’s a lot of time for Watson to learn the offense and make people with the team less comfortable with leaving him on the bench. Until and unless that happens, it will be Savage at the helm in Houston.

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Both Cleveland and Washington deny Kirk Cousins trade talks

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One of the cannonballs into the pool on a busy news night for the NFL was a report from its own network that the Browns were trying to trade for Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins.

By the end of the night, one-sixteenth of the network’s ownership had denied it, with both teams poo-poohing it.

Via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Browns executive Sashi Brown dismissed it, calling it “bad reporting.”

Meanwhile in Washington, via John Keim of ESPN.com, coach Jay Gruden said they didn’t “receive one call” about Cousins.

The Browns used three picks Thursday night, none on quarterbacks, which means their depth chart still consists of Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler.

And until Cousins has a long-term deal somewhere, the speculation about him will continue, in Cleveland and elsewhere. But the time being, both teams are shooting this one down.

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Malik McDowell, Dalvin Cook among big names left after first round

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The NFL announced earlier this month that 22 players would be attending this year’s draft in Philadelphia, although that number dropped by one when cornerback Gareon Conley changed his plans this week.

Conley wound up going in the first round despite the sexual assault allegations that led him to pass on the trip, but a few of the other invitees remained on the board through all 32 picks. Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell, Alabama tackle Cam Robinson, Washington cornerback Kevin King and Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie all remain available heading into Round Two on Friday night.

They have company among recognizable names from outside of Philadelphia. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook didn’t join Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey as a first-round pick and joins Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon at the top of the list of available backs.

Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp, Washington safety Budda Baker and Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham are others that sometimes appeared as first-round picks in mock drafts before going unselected on Thursday. Quarterbacks Davis Webb and DeShone Kizer also figure to be among the names coming off the board when the draft resumes with the Packers on the clock at No. 33.

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49ers end Reuben Foster’s slide

AP

Reuben Foster’s loss was San Francisco’s gain.

The Alabama linebacker, one of the top talents in the draft, slid after being sent home from the Scouting Combine and, more recently, generating a positive drug test via a dilute sample.

It caused him to plunge, but the 49ers decided to trade up to get him, doing a deal with the Seahawks for the 31st pick in the draft.

The 49ers gave up their second-round pick and a fourth-round pick to make the move up and grab Foster, who possibly would have been nabbed by the Saints.

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Saints close first round by taking Ryan Ramczyk

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The first round of the 2017 NFL Draft is in the books.

The Saints closed out the night’s activities in Philadelphia by taking Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk with the 32nd overall pick. The pick was one they acquired from the Patriots in the trade that sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots.

Ramczyk is the latest of many strong blockers to come out of Madison in recent years and was widely projected to be a first-round pick this season. He had hip surgery after the end of the Badgers’ season, which may have pushed him down a bit but he ended the night making good on those projections.

They had previously taken cornerback Marshon Lattimore with the 11th pick of the round, so they were able to address both sides of the ball before the night was out.

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Tak McKinley arrives with a flourish, with an “F”

AP

Pass rusher Takkarist McKinley brings a great story to the NFL. He also brings a colorful vocabulary.

During a live interview with Deion Sanders of NFL Network, McKinley spoke about the influence of his  late grandmother, and the promise he made to her to become a Division I athlete.

“I completed my promise,” McKinley said. “It means every f–king thing to me. Excuse my language. Man, fine me later. Fine me later, man.”

It will be interesting to see whether the NFL does, given that he made the statement during a broadcast on the league-owned network.

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Steelers grab T.J. Watt with 30th overall pick

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The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt with the 30th overall pick in the draft.

The brother of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, T.J. made a name for himself at Wisconsin last season.

He started just one season for the Badgers after converting to the defensive side of the ball. Watt posted a team-best 15.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks to earn First Team All-Big Ten and multiple All-American honors for Wisconsin last season.

Outside linebacker was a big need for the Steelers as James Harrison isn’t getting any younger.

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Browns move up to No. 29, take David Njoku

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The Browns are the busiest team in the NFL tonight.

With the 29th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns selected David Njoku, the athletic tight end from the University of Miami.

The Browns moved up to No. 29 in a trade with the Packers, packaging the 33rd and 108th overall picks to get the 29th pick.

Thanks to their many trades, the Browns had three first-round picks: They took Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett first overall, took Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers 25th overall and then took Njoku. That’s two talented players on defense and a talented player on offense.

No team in the NFL added the kind of talent the Browns added tonight. Cleveland still hasn’t identified its franchise quarterback, but the Browns are starting to put a team in place that looks like it can compete, something that hasn’t been the case recently in Cleveland.

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Cowboys scarf down Taco Charlton with the 28th pick

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With a run of pass-rushers late in the first round, the Cowboys got their Taco to go.

With the 28th pick, Dallas added Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton.

He had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss last year for the Wolverines, and has the kind of size and speed which make him a good option for the Cowboys.

While it’s hard to find the kind of “war daddy” pass-rusher Jerry Jones was hoping for at the end of the first round, Charlton’s a good option for a team which needs all the help they can find opposite Demarcus Lawrence.

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Bills take Tre’Davious White after trading down to No. 27

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The Bills were originally scheduled to pick much earlier on Thursday night, but the Chiefs’ desire to get quarterback Patrick Mahomes helped change that.

The Chiefs sent the Bills their first-round pick next year, a third-round pick this year and the No. 27 pick in exchange for the 10th pick and that haul was too much for Buffalo to pass up. They used that No. 27 pick to add LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White to their roster.

White started for most of his time in Baton Rouge and gives new Bills coach Sean McDermott an option to help build a cornerback corps that’s said goodbye to Stephon Gilmore and Nickell Robey-Coleman since the end of last season. Their departures should help White’s bid to play early for the Bills.

White is the third LSU player and fifth cornerback to come off the board on Thursday night. He’s also a punt returner, so his contributions to the Bills may go beyond defense.

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Falcons trade up for Tak McKinley

AP

The Seahawks held the 26th pick in the draft. Until the Falcons acquired it from them.

Atlanta moved up from No. 31 to select pass rusher Takkarist McKinley from UCLA.

He gives the Falcons a bookend to Vic Beasley, on a defense that quickly has become one of the best in the NFL under Dan Quinn.

The Seaahwks will now slide into the No. 31 spot, and possibly could slide down even farther.

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Browns select Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers

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The Cleveland Browns could have had Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson with the 12th overall pick if they wanted him to fill a pressing need at the quarterback position.

Instead, the Browns traded back and ended up with Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers.

Peppers could play several different positions in the NFL, but was primarily a linebacker/safety at Michigan.

Peppers finished third in both tackles (72) and all-purpose yardage (an average of 62.6 yards per game) for the Wolverines in 2016, while leading the team with 16 tackles for loss and four sacks.

He’s also a capable special teams performer as well.

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At 24, Raiders take a chance on Gareon Conley

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In perhaps the biggest surprise of the first round of the NFL draft, the Raiders have selected Gareon Conley, the Ohio State cornerback who came under intense scrutiny this week when he was named as a suspect in a sexual assault investigation.

Until his name surfaced in the police investigation, Conley was expected to be a high first-round pick. As it turned out, Conley wasn’t a high first-round pick, but he was a first-round pick, with the Raiders taking him at No. 24.

Obviously, the Raiders have to be confident that Conley will be cleared. Conley has professed his innocence and insisted that he has multiple witnesses who can testify that he was never alone with his accuser on the night in question.

Conley is an undeniably talented football player. The Raiders also believe they can trust him to be clean off the field.

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Giants take Evan Engram with the 23rd pick

AP

The Giants found the tight end they needed, adding a pass-catching threat.

With the 23rd pick, they took Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram.

Engram had 65 catches for 926 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and is practically a slot receiver.

His 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine was the fastest at his position, and he gives fellow Ole Miss man Eli Manning another attractive option downfield.

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Lions take Jarrad Davis at No. 21

AP

The Lions needed a linebacker. They got on in Jarrad Davis.

The former Florida defender became the 21st pick in the first round of the draft on Thursday night. Davis likely fills the void created by the departure of DeAndre Levy.

Davis exits the board while Reuben Foster’s free-fall continues. He’s regarded as the best linebacker left on the board.

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