PITTSFORD, N.Y. - Sweat pours down Richie Incognito's face as he stands outside the Buffalo Bills' locker room, his helmet tucked inside his arm, after spending more than two hours on the practice field and another half-hour signing autographs.His daily weight room regimen awaits, then a shower and lunch, followed by meetings, a walk-through and more meetings. It is a training-camp ritual that few players actually admit to enjoying, but there is nowhere Incognito would rather be. Especially after wondering for nearly two years whether he'd ever get the chance to play in the NFL again.
Now that he has, he hopes to be perceived in a more positive light -- in part because he insists he has changed, but also because he believes he wasn't treated fairly.
"There was a long time off for me, a lot of down time, so yeah, that thought definitely crept into my head," said the 32-year-old guard, who was at the center of the "Bullygate" scandal with the Dolphins early in the 2013 season. He was suspended and later released by the Dolphins and went unsigned for the entire 2014 season.
"It was frustrating and difficult when guys were going to training camp [last year] and when the games were being played, knowing I could still play," he said. "To not have that opportunity, I had something that I loved taken away from me. Any time that happens, it makes you want it more. It makes you miss it more."
HE'S MORE AWARE NOW
Rex Ryan was willing to give Incognito another chance despite the "Bullygate" scandal and Incognito's reputation as one of the league's dirtiest players. Ryan, himself a combative personality with a bravado that has made him a target of criticism, has no regret about signing Incognito.
"I think it just talks about giving people second chances and maybe third chances or whatever," Ryan said. "But at the end of the day, when you get it, it's worth it."
Incognito admits to being sobered by the experience, especially when he was considered a pariah after it was revealed that he had made racist remarks to tackle Jonathan Martin and was part of a culture of locker-room bullying that ultimately led to commissioner Roger Goodell ordering changes in how players interact.
"Definitely made some changes," Incognito said. "People always ask, 'Was it this big change? Did you have this big come-to-Jesus moment?' I mean, I definitely had to change some things about it, but I think personality-wise, I'm still the same. It's just being self-aware and growing up a little bit and being more mature and carrying myself as a veteran leader."
And yes, he now watches what he says to teammates.
"You've got to be conscious in the locker room," he said. "I think there's definitely a part of me that's conscious about things that are said. I think just coming into a new place and earning these guys' respect and their trust is important."
HAPPY CAMPER, BUT . . .
Has he been accepted in Buffalo, where Incognito played briefly during the 2009 season after being released by the Rams?
"No doubt," he said. "They've done a great job accepting me. They accept me and take me at face value, and they judge me by my actions and my hard work each and every day."
Said Ryan, who already has named Incognito the team's starting left guard: "I think when you look at Richie, he's been absolutely tremendous here."
But Incognito remains bitter about some of the things that he dealt with during his time with the Dolphins and is highly critical of the way Goodell and the league dealt with his situation. That includes some strongly worded opinions about league-appointed investigator Ted Wells, who now is facing criticism about his handling of the investigation involving the Patriots' use of deflated footballs.
Incognito believes Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is being subjected to some of the issues that the guard believes painted him in a negative light.
"I just think it's bogus, the whole system in how it's set up with Roger and the complete, absolute power he has," Incognito said. "He has so much power and he hires independent investigators who come in and are obviously not independent. They come in with an agenda and they come in looking to find facts to back up their argument. All the facts are slanted in their favor.
"Ted Wells came in with a mission against me," he said. "Ted Wells came in slanted against me and everything in his report was slanted against me. There were some things in there that would have helped my cause that were left out."
"Teammate testimony, stuff like that," Incognito said. "You see that in Brady's case. There's a lot of stuff that got left out. There's a lot of misinformation."
'THAT'S NOT WHO I AM'
Incognito said he believes the perception about him "is a little bit jaded. I think the media took certain things and kind of ran with it about the bullying thing. That's not who I am, and that's not what I represent. That's why it's a great opportunity to come here with Buffalo and earn these guys' respect every day."
Incognito said he would prefer that NFL discipline be taken out of Goodell's hands -- at least somewhat -- and that the league use independent arbitration to handle the appeals process.
"I think with Roger, with so much power, just keeps fumbling over independent investigations and making everything public," he said. "I think it just needs to be a more concise system. Roger can't be the judge, jury and executioner on this thing. I understand league discipline. You have to get after guys who are being dumb. But you can't appeal back to the person who handed down your punishment. You have to get a little power out of [Goodell's] hands and get [an independent arbitrator] to take a look at it."
But Incognito isn't entirely negative about Goodell. In fact, he said of the commissioner, "I think he's doing a great job. I really do."
In what way?
"Just cleaning up the game on the field, taking away the big hits, making a point of emphasis to make the game better and safer," Incognito said. "That initiative is great. But on the league discipline, I think some things need to change. I just think he wields a little too much power on some things."
Incognito doesn't plan on being subject to that discipline any longer. Lessons learned and changes made. It's all about the game now.
"Just having a lot of fun being out here flying around," he said. "It's good to get back to football."