Right up front, allow me to stipulate this: Assuming Bryant McKinnie doesn't weigh 400 pounds, I don't think there is a ton of risk associated with the Ravens signing the 10-year veteran, a former Pro Bowler.
It seems clear that the Ravens coaching staff -- after spending three weeks gritting their teeth every day, watching film from practice -- came to the conclusion that the situation at right tackle was a potential disaster. Everything the Ravens want to do this year is going to be predicated on running the ball better and protecting Joe Flacco better, and throwing a rookie or a non-descript free agent next to Marshal Yanda on the right side just wasn't going to cut it. At worst, the Ravens must figure they can bring McKinnie along slowly, get him on a steady diet of baked chicken and steamed broccoli, and ask him to provide depth for the first four weeks of the season. I might even begin the season by lining him up at tight end for 20 plays a game, next to Michael Oher, and dare teams to stop me from running left. I think think asking him, just three weeks from now, to slide laterally and block James Harrison every time Flacco drops back to pass is borderline insanity, but we'll see what the Ravens' plans are. Maybe it was just as insane to ask Jah Reid to block LaMarr Woodley.
But even if you love this move, and even if you have unwavering faith in the front office, there is no denying that signing McKinnie right now has some long-term implications for Michael Oher. It may cause a few problems as it attempts to fix others. I'm not even talking about off-the-field stuff. McKinnie's various legal issues are irrelevant at the moment. I'm talking about the essential admission that Oher is never going to be a Pro Bowl left tackle in the NFL. Even if by some miracle McKinnie gets his weight down and his head right and plays at a Pro Bowl level this year, he's just not a long-term solution on the left side. He's 31 years old, has had motivational problems his entire career, and is already on medication for cholesterol. Ray Lewis might be able to motivate him to drop some weight in the short term, but at 31 years old, people are generally set in their ways. (I think it's a little funny that the Ravens were quick to point out that their Miami guys had "vouched" for McKinnie. What Miami guy won't vouch for another? Have you ever heard anyone diss a fellow Hurricane?)
If McKinnie was telling the truth in an interview with ESPN radio and the Ravens really did inform him that they plan to play him on the left side and move Oher back to right tackle, then it should also mean Oher's move needs be permanent. The Ravens need to stick him at right tackle and hope he becomes a dominant player at that position for the next seven or eight years. They can't keep yanking him back and forth, tweaking his footwork and his mental approach at the start of every season.
Obviously Ozzie Newsome has to, for the most part, focus on winning now. (Who knows how much time Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have left as dominant players?) Newsome and John Harbaugh also know more about football than I'll ever begin to fathom, much less absorb. But it still feels like the Ravens are giving up on Oher playing the left side a bit too soon.
There are a lot of Ravens fans who seem to remember Michael Oher dominating on the right side as a rookie, something I don't believe actually happened. He was a solid player with a great backstory, and everyone was pulling for him to succeed, but he didn't dominate. On the flip side, I'm not sure he was as bad as many people thought he was the following year, his first extended stint on the left side.
He became something of a scapegoat for various offensive woes on the line, especially in the eyes of the Jared Gaither Fan Club. Oher had a problem with false starts and he was as much responsible for Troy Polamalu's infamous blitz-and-strip of Flacco as anyone. But he was also learning a new position and badly sprained his ankle at one point during the season and still played through it. Oher is physical and nasty in the trenches, and he gets under the skin of defensive ends. I still suspect he could have blossomed into a great left tackle if given enough time. But even if that is true, I think the experiment needs to end.
To be honest, maybe Newsome made this move with one eye on the 2012 and 2013 salary caps. Flacco and Ray Rice are going to want big contract extensions next year, and maybe the Ravens have concluded they just can't afford to give Oher left tackle money and sign their other young players. Or maybe they've concluded he doesn't deserve left tackle money, and never will. Either way, it wouldn't make much sense to shift Oher back to the left side in 2012. At some point, you have to let him get comfortable at one position.
I'd be stunned if McKinnie suddenly turned into a savior. There is a reason he sat on the open market for three weeks after the Vikings cut him. Players in decline don't typically reverse that process after nine years in the league. But with a better fitness program and (you'd hope) a better attitude, who knows.
The salad bar in the Ravens complex isn't bad. Maybe Oher can even show him where it is. Say what you will about Oher, but it's clear he'll do whatever is best for the team without complaint.
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