We fans of the Carolina Panthers have known for a year now that QB Cam Newton needed an upgrade to help protect his blind side, but I'm not sure many of us thought he would get the young man who literally has defined the position, at least on the big screen.
His so-far brief life story was the subject of the movie "The Blind Side," starring Sandra Bullock, a handful of years back. He came into the league in 2009 amid quite a bit of media hype - they LOVE stories like his, and who doesn't?
As for the Panthers, I don't think this fit could be any better for both parties than it is. I really think Gettleman has hit a home run, to mix sports metaphors, with this pick-up.
No, Oher isn't a "Tiffany's" purchase...however, he's no dollar-store afterthought like some of the WRs we picked up last year (Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood) and physically, he has the tools to play on the left side and play it at a high level. The question of the day is: "Can the coaches fix him?"
I recall from blurbs on NFL Network and/or ESPN regarding his being moved to the right side and struggling on both sides, especially after he got into the league. He seemed to not only not live up to his first-round grade on the field but regress to the point that he was moved from the left side to the right, and then to the bench last year with the Tennessee Titans.
It's a very interesting case, and a ton of unique circumstances. Oher is reunited with his former Baltimore Ravens OL coach, John Matsko, and rumor has it that he is the coach that Oher played his best NFL ball for, and indeed, Ron Rivera mentioned the previous relationship there as a key factor in pursuing him.
What to Expect from Michael Oher
The idea is hopefully Matsko can get our of Oher what the Titans weren't able to. I think Oher might be one of those guys who is a bit slow to "take initiative" in that he may not have a great "football mind." I'm not saying he's stupid or intellectually slow at all - I'm saying he might be a player who is a bit slow to grow because he's afraid of doing something not coached and being beaten as a result. Those types of guys sometimes don't hit their stride until they A) find the right coach and B) get some experience under their belt.
Oher has 80 career starts, so he now has the experience, but he lost coach Matsko after a couple of years into his rookie contract. His play declined when Matsko left.
I think this Oher situation really fits with what the Panthers both need to do and can do - and that's getting a free-agent OT before the draft. I have been saying we'd do well to get one in FA and the draft BOTH and now the team has two projected starters (for now) in Oher and Mike Remmers, neither of whom is heralded at this point. John Matsko coached up Remmers and guard Andy Norwell into surprisingly capable starters last year.
The idea (and the hope, frankly) is that Matsko's previous relationship and familiarity with Oher combined with the coach's recent track record with "development" projects will pay dividends, and quickly. Everybody online is saying that Oher's "not the answer, but a stopgap measure."
I've learned not to be so quick to judge. Given Oher's struggles the past few seasons, that's the safe bet, but as I pointed out, though he has struggled in recent seasons, he finds himself in a unique situation in Charlotte that he could not have found anywhere else....again, because of the former relationship with the OL coach.
It means at training camp, the two can pick up a little further down the road in techniques and training than other coach-player combos as Matsko already knows Oher's strengths and weaknesses. If Matsko can push the right buttons, Oher IS a former first-round pick, so the talent is there for him to become the long-term answer at left tackle. The potential is certainly there, but it not having been fully reached after six NFL seasons often means "the light will never come on."
That's true in most cases. However, as I have pointed out, this isn't "most cases" but a unique one, and one that bears watching. Also, Oher, unlike Byron Bell, does have the athletic ability to handle most pass-rushers if he can get good fundamentals under him and his hand techniques down....all those little things that add up. That's why he wound up where he did....if for no other reason, to try to revive his career and possibly "get paid" a few years down the road if he can. If that's going to happen, the situation in Carolina, the change of venue, and reuniting with his former position coach could be a recipe for a rejuvenated tackle...exactly what the Panthers need!
The biggest impression he made upon me was before he stepped on the field. It was draft day, which by the time he rolled around had become the spectacle it is today, so media eyes were on him. When Baltimore selected him, his response was something along the lines of "I'm ready to go. When do we start? I wanna go play!" Gotta love the youthful exuberance as he gets a hug from his adopted Mom in the photo above.
I don't expect Oher to plug in and play like a Jordan Gross on opening day. I also don't expect him to play like Byron Bell, either.
That should be enough to be optimistic about the position for 2015 right there!
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