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

Manti Te'o, Jeremy Schaap 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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Peyton gets paid $105,000 to speak at Oklahoma State

Peyton AP

Alabama coach Nick Saban got Peyton Manning’s time for free.  Oklahoma State had to pay a bit more.

According to the Tulsa World, Manning received $105,000 for a 30-minute speech and a 30-minute question-and-answer session in Stillwater.  The money was paid by the OSU Speakers Board.

So what did they get in return?  Apparently, a laundry list of fairly obvious lines that appear in any of the various motivational books that can be purchased for 99 cents on the clearance shelf.

“I challenge each of you in this arena tonight to invest your time to become a game-changer.  A gamer-changer looks deeper and senses something others don’t and then acts on it.”

“You either get better or worse every day.  You don’t stay the same.”

“Enjoy the journey, not the destination.”

“This is your world.  Own it.”

Actually, this isn’t our world.  It’s Peyton’s world.  The result of us are just paying the rent.  At $105,000 per hour.

Seriously, though, we’ll never complain about a guy finding a way to get paid for his time.  We’re all worth whatever someone will pay, and OSU’s Speakers Board decided Manning is worth $105,000 per hour.  There’s not a thing wrong with Peyton collecting the cash.

But here’s the bigger issue.  At a time when the NCAA and various member institutions are fretting about how to afford the inevitable obligation to pay student-athletes, the fact that $105,000 can be scraped together by Oklahoma State for 60 minutes of cliché and rah-rah reconfirms that, when the time comes to cough up fair market value to the kids who are bringing in millions, the schools will find a way.

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Newton in a boot, still recovering from ankle surgery

Newton AP

It’s been a month since the surprise announcement that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton needs ankle surgery.  So how’s he doing four-plus weeks after having the procedure?

Darin Gantt of PFT, who covered the Panthers 14 years before joining this establishment nearly two years ago, reported during Friday night’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN that Newton remains in a boot — and that the team remains hopeful Newton will be back to 100 percent in time for training camp.

Of course, Newton may still miss all of the practice reps of the offseason program, which becomes more critical as the Panthers break in a bunch of new receivers.

The next time we hear Newton’s name inevitably will be when the Panthers exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which will pay him $13 million for 2015.  It’s only a matter of time before the Panthers pay him a lot more than that.

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Dominik predicts a slide for Manziel

Manziel Getty Images

Teddy Bridgewater isn’t the only 2014 quarterback prospect who received a dire prognosis from former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik on Friday.  Via Rotowold, Dominik also had some bad news for Johnny Manziel.

Dominik, who now works for ESPN, said on the air that Manziel “will fall a little more than people think” in the draft.

This assessment presumes that a consensus currently exists as to where Manziel will go.  It doesn’t.

As time passes, it seems less likely the Texans would use the first overall pick in the draft on Manziel.  After that, it gets fuzzy.  Could a team spring in front of Jacksonville (No. 3) and Cleveland (No. 4) to get Manziel with the No. 2 selection currently held by the Rams?  Possibly.

If he gets past No. 2 (and he likely will), the hot spots become Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland at No. 5 (very unlikely), Tampa Bay at No. 7, Minnesota at No. 8, and Tennessee at No. 11.

The Cowboys at No. 16 could be very intrigued by Manziel.  Perhaps sufficiently intrigued to trade up.

If Manziel makes it past the first half of the round, the question then becomes whether a team from round two would trade up in front of the Browns at No. 26, if the Browns don’t take a quarterback at No. 4.  After the Browns, it then becomes possible if not probable that a team springs into the first round, where a four-year contract and a one-year option would apply.

We’d be shocked if Manziel isn’t taken in the first round.  His actual placement in round one, whatever it may be, won’t be a surprise.

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Reggie Wayne: If you say I’m over the hill, I’ll prove you wrong

Reggie Wayne AP

As Colts receiver Reggie Wayne recovers from last season’s torn ACL, one thing is motivating him to work harder than ever: Knowing that people doubt he can do it.

Wayne told Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star that “naysayers” in the media are pushing him through his rehab.

“It’s you guys,” Wayne said. “You guys motivate me. You guys say that I can’t do it. I’m 35. I’m over the hill. No way I can come back the same. I wasn’t a big newspaper reader, but I’ve become one. Next time I read it maybe you’ll be saying I’ve found the fountain of youth.”

Wayne has previously said that he believes he’ll be ready to go full-speed during offseason workouts, but that Colts coach Chuck Pagano is telling him to take it easy and not to push himself too hard. Whenever Pagano is ready to let Wayne go, however, Wayne sounds ready to show that he still has a lot left in him.

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Colts sign two fullbacks from Super Regional Combine

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Colts have added a pair of fullbacks who took part in last week’s NFL Super Regional Combine in Detroit.

The club said Thursday it had signed Stephen Campbell and Cameron White, each of whom was not in the NFL in 2013.

Campbell (6-1, 245) played for West Virginia Wesleyan from 2009 through 2012. He participated in the NFL’s New York/New Jersey Regional Combine on February 15, then was invited to the Super Regional Combine.

White took part in the Chicago Regional Combine on March 15 before moving on to the Super Regional Combine. He is a Hillsdale (Mich.) College product (2009-2012).

Both rookie fullbacks have shown they can catch the ball; White hauled in 94 passes in his collegiate career, while Campbell recorded 65 receptions.

The Colts now have three fullbacks on the roster, with veteran Stanley Havili the club’s other blocking back.

The Colts’ willingness to explore all available outlets for talent has been one of the trademarks of G.M. Ryan Grigson’s tenure.

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Report: League installing real-time fiber optics for replay review

Eagles Cowboys Football AP

One of the key ingredients for a centralized replay function is the latest in real-time fiber optic technology.  The NHL has it.

According to John Kryk of the Toronto Sun, the NFL will soon have it, too.

Per Kryk, the league will have the ability this year in the league office to view the games as they happen, which will allow V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino to better assist the referees as they engage in the formal replay review.

With the technology in place to see things happen as they happen, it could be that the ability of Blandino to guide the referees through the review process in 2014 ultimately becomes Blandino and company actually conducting the replay reviews from New York City.

That’s the way we’d prefer it to be.  The process could be much more efficient if the referee were removed from the process and the review happened quickly at the proverbial situation room.

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Ex-Jag Richard Collier is “on cloud nine” nearly six years after being paralyzed

Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp Getty Images

It’s a slow Friday in the football world, which gives us a bit of time to catch up on some stories that don’t have to do with the draft or the coming season.

Vito Stellino wrote one of them in the Florida Times Union about former Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier. Collier’s NFL career came to an end after just nine games when he was paralyzed after being shot 14 times by a man who has since been sentenced to life in prison.

Collier went on to have part of one leg amputated as a result of the 2008 shooting, but told Stellino that he has forgiven the shooter while forging ahead with a fulfilling life that no longer includes football. Collier speaks against gun violence, runs a foundation called The Spirit Strong, rehabs diligently and plays father to twin sons he had with his wife earlier this month. It’s all part of a life that Collier says “keeps getting better” almost six years after his football career and much more were cruelly taken away from him.

“It was a bad situation, but no one can ever take away my joy. I am still smiling, just enjoying life,” Collier said. “It was hard at first, but I got around to smelling the roses. I take every day and appreciate it. I could have died. Somebody was looking over me. I don’t take it for granted. Life is great. No matter what the situation is, I’m on cloud nine. Everything I want, I have right in front of me.”

Collier remains hopeful that medical advances will help him make even more progress and we share that hope for him and anyone else in a similar position, but remains positive that everything will work out even if they don’t. After reading Stellino’s profile, it’s hard not to share that feeling.

 

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Mark Dominik: Teddy Bridgewater’s problems go beyond Pro Day

Teddy Bridgewater AP

Former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s draft stock has appeared to decline dramatically in recent weeks, as a disappointing Pro Day has led to talk that he’s not the potential No. 1 overall pick that he was proclaimed to be during the 2013 season. But one NFL personnel man says that in reality, Bridgewater’s stock was never that high to begin with.

Mark Dominik, the former Buccaneers general manager who now serves as an analyst for ESPN, said on NFL Live that he doesn’t believe Bridgewater’s Pro Day is a problem so much as his skinny frame, as well as the fact that Bridgewater didn’t always look like an elite passer on tape.

“There were things you saw on tape when you watched him,” Dominik said. “Something that scouts internally, we talked about it in Tampa with Teddy Bridgewater last year. Is he really the premiere quarterback? I like the young man, I think he’s a quality individual, he’s got character and leadership and those things. But this is a quarterback, and you’re judged by what quarterback you draft, and I think Teddy Bridgewater might not have all the pieces you’re looking for.

Dominik indicated that if teams with Top 5 picks like the Texans, Jaguars and Browns are interested in Bridgewater, their interest is in hoping Bridgewater falls all the way out of the first round and is still available early in the second round. That’s a long fall from where most people thought Bridgewater would be drafted.

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Report: Rams to pick up fifth-year option on Robert Quinn

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v St Louis Rams Getty Images

The Rams will reportedly add a fifth year to defensive end Robert Quinn’s contract.

According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the club will pick up the 2015 option on Quinn, their 2011 first-round pick and one of the NFL’s top pass rushers, by the May 3 deadline.

Quinn, 23, notched 19 sacks in 2013 and garnered Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Professional Football Writers of America.

When the Rams pick up the 2015 option, Quinn will be due a base salary of $6.969 million, according to Albert Breer of NFL Media, who reported the 2015 salary numbers for first-rounders selected with picks Nos. 11-32 on Friday.

Quinn was picked one spot before the Dolphins took center Mike Pouncey 15th overall in 2011. Were the Dolphins to pick up Pouncey’s option, the Pro Bowl center would make $7.438 million in 2015, according to the figures reported by Breer.

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Carr believes there’s a “very good chance” he’ll go in round one

Carr Getty Images

Today’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN includes a visit from former Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.  The younger brother of 2002 first overall pick David Carr, some think Derek could be a first-rounder, too.

Derek believes it could happen, based on everything he has been hearing.

“I would say there’s a very good chance,” Carr said in an interview to be played on Friday’s broadcast.  “Just from what coaches have told me, something I’ve heard from General Managers.  I’d say that the chances of it happening are very good.”

The chances of the full interview being shown during Friday’s show are very good, too.  The chances of Ravens defensive lineman Chris Canty joining the program as a guest analysis are even better.

The chances of you answering the poll question posted below will be 100 percent, at the moment you answer it.

The chances of you tuning in at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN are hopefully closer to 100 percent than zero.  The chances of me holding my breath or any other bodily function for it are precisely zero.

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Dolphins thinking about shaking up linebackers

Koa Misi, Joe Philbin AP

The Dolphins spent a lot of money on free agent linebackers last year, and they appear to be set to shuffle some of those guys around.

According to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, the Dolphins are planning to move outside linebacker Koa Misi to the middle, replacing Dannell Ellerbe.

Ellerbe would then move to the weakside, and Phillip Wheeler would play the strongside spot.

Misi signed an extension last fall, after former General Manager Jeff Ireland spent on Ellerbe and Wheeler last offseason.

Such a move would be a huge admission that last year’s moves were a mistake, but since Ireland was fired, they’re the kind that are easier to admit.

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Patriots, Browns, Steelers and Jets reportedly showing interest in Andre Williams

Boston College v Maryland Getty Images

Running backs might not be a first round staple anymore, but teams are still going to be selecting the top collegiate runners from 2013 at some point over the three day draft process.

One that should be off the board near the top of the list is Boston College’s Andre Williams. Williams was a Heisman finalist last year after running for 2,177 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns and has drawn good reviews as a pass blocker, but he will need to show he can catch the ball after going the entire 2013 season without catching a pass for B.C.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that four AFC squads are showing particular interest in Williams making that growth as a member of their roster. Wilson names the Patriots, Browns, Steelers and Jets as showing the most interest, although it’s hard to see the Jets spending an early pick on a back after signing Chris Johnson this week.

The same could be said of the Steelers, who signed LeGarrette Blount to create an opening for a back with the Patriots. The Browns signed Ben Tate, but could use Williams or another young runner as a complement to their free agent acquisition.

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Dolphins’ Brandon Gibson has no doubts he’ll be ready Week One

Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline AP

Dolphins receiver Brandon Gibson had his season ended by a torn patellar tendon last year, the kind of knee injury that often prevents a receiver from being ready to return for the start of the following season. But Gibson has no doubts that he’ll be ready to go when the season starts.

Gibson told ESPN he’ll “definitely” be ready for Week One, and he’s already jogging six months after the injury.

“The important thing is to not overstress your patellar tendon; It’s involved in everything you do, really,” Gibson said. “It connects a lot, your knee and your quad. So I basically was on bed rest for a while, a couple months. The only thing I was doing was just rehabbing and little bit of upper-body work. You don’t want to cause too much heavy stress on your knee, but I’m slowly getting into things.”

There’s been some talk that Gibson might not be with the Dolphins when the season starts, but a report from the Miami Herald Gibson will stay in Miami, not least because he would still cost the Dolphins $2 million against the salary cap even if he’s not on the roster. Gibson was off to a good start last season, with 30 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns in seven games, and from all indications he’ll be a contributor to the receiving corps in Miami this year.

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Report: Ravens, 49ers plan joint practice before preseason game

Jim Harbaugh, , John Harbaugh AP

The Harbaugh brothers are scheduled to face one another in a rematch of Super Bowl XLVII in the exhibition season this summer and it sounds like they’ve figured out a way to spend some time together ahead of the contest without infringing on practice time.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports that the Ravens and 49ers are planning to join up for practice and a scrimmage ahead of their August 7 preseason opener. Those practices would give both teams a chance to see their players against outside competition in a controlled setting, something that several teams do to change up their practice schedule in the summer.

It would also make for a more productive trip across the country for the 49ers, who would get to give frontline players a bit more time in a scrimmage than they would normally get if they were just playing a handful of snaps in the first preseason game.

And then there’s the chance to ask “Who’s got it better than us?” to sweeten the deal all the more.

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Henry Melton settles lawsuit regarding alleged bite of bar owner

Henry Melton AP

Just before defensive tackle Henry Melton signed with the Cowboys, he was sued by a Texas bar owner for more than $1 million for allegedly biting the man in the back during an incident December of last year.

Melton, who countersued with a claim that he was attacked by employees of the bar, called it a “money grab” after signing with Dallas and it may have been a successful one. Jeff Mosier of the Dallas Morning News reports that a court filing on Thursday said both parties agreed to dismiss all filings against each other. No details of the settlement have been announced.

None are likely to be announced, so we’ll just go ahead and assume that someone’s serving as a butler.

According to Mosier, the settlement does not apply to anyone named in Melton’s counterclaim other than the owner of the bar. There are four others and a company named in addition to the bar owner in Melton’s claim and Melton still has a hearing this month related to criminal charges stemming from the incident.

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