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Ravens' Michael Oher hopes for permanent home at right tackle

The life story of Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher was immortalized in "The Blind Side," the inspirational movie about his emergence as a football star after being adopted by a wealthy family following a rough childhood.

The importance of the left tackle and how much promise Oher displayed at the position was a major premise of author Michael Lewis' book that was adapted into the movie.

Heading into his fifth NFL season and the final year of his rookie contract, it's become increasingly clear that Oher has a chance to excel at right tackle rather than protecting the quarterback's blind side as a left tackle. The right side of the offensive line is where Oher wants to play and where he'll line up this season since the Ravens signed left tackle Bryant McKinnie to a two-year, $7 million contract in May.

"I prefer playing right tackle," Oher said. "I've flip-flopped back and forth ever since I got here and played both sides, but I think right tackle is my best position. I think I'm better over there and the team is better with me over there."

Oher struggled during the regular season last year while starting every game at left tackle after McKinnie was benched. He allowed 10 sacks, the third-most in the NFL, and committed nine penalties, according to Pro Football Focus.

One of the biggest drawbacks of Oher's game is his tendency to draw flags.

Oher has committed 45 penalties in four seasons, including 21 false-start infractions. Most of the penalties have occurred when the 2009 first-round draft pick has played left tackle.

"Oher's a natural right tackle, not a left tackle," said former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker, an analyst for Sirius Radio. "He's got more of the temperament of a right tackle because of how physical and aggressive he is. He's never really gotten his technique and pass protection to where he needed to get it in order to be an elite player or an above-average left tackle. He was more of an average left tackle because he doesn't have elite feet.

"His technique leaves something to be desired against skilled pass rushers, which gave him some problems at times. He gets by more on ability and attitude. He just looks so much more comfortable at right tackle. I'm still not sure whether he'll be an All-Pro-caliber player unless he's more consistent in pass protection, but I think keeping him at right tackle is the right move and good for his career."

Inserting McKinnie at left tackle and shifting Oher to right tackle contributed to the Ravens' success during the postseason.

Quarterback Joe Flacco was provided enough time to throw 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in four playoff victories, including a win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII when he was named the Most Valuable Player.

Playing every snap at right tackle during the playoffs, Oher allowed just one sack and six quarterback hurries. That included stonewalling Denver Broncos star pass rusher Von Miller, who had 18.5 sacks during the regular season last year.

After deploying Oher at right tackle as a rookie in 2009, at left tackle in 2010, at right tackle in 2011 and at left tackle last season until the playoffs, the Ravens are upbeat about his potential as a full-time right tackle.

"I've always thought Michael Oher's potential is the sky is the limit for Michael," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Michael Oher is a Pro Bowl tackle-type guy. We have always believed that. The fact that he can settle down on the right side now is probably something that will help him have the chance to achieve that.

"Michael having a chance to play on the right side throughout the whole offseason and through training camp should be a real benefit for him. He's had to make that move back and forth, and that makes him very versatile, but it's going to be good to get all of those reps under his belt going into the season."

The guiding principle of Oher's approach to football is based on toughness. He delivers a powerful hand punch to the chests of opposing defensive linemen and relishes contact. At every turn on the field, Oher is looking to hit people.

"I come out and work hard every day, left or right, it makes no difference," Oher said. "That's why I come to practice, to get better every single day. The Pro Bowl? To be honest with you, I really don't care about stuff like that anymore. I just try to get better and help the team win. That's all I can do right now is work on every single thing."

Off the field, Oher is one of the first players to offer guidance to teammates — from tips on studying film to counseling players when they cross the line on social media to philanthropy.

"I've always been a good teammate," said Oher, who has more than 277,000 followers on Twitter. "Since high school and college, guys always looked up to me because I lead by example. It helps the younger guys out.

"I'm getting my charitable foundation going. I'm going to do a lot of stuff in inner cities and all over Baltimore. I want to do something positive and give back."

Oher wasn't always pleased about the movie in the past, especially the moments during which he's initially portrayed as a neophyte on the football field. Now, Oher says his attitude toward all of the extra attention has changed.

"It doesn't matter to me anymore," Oher said. "With all that's happening, it is what it is. I've learned to embrace it and what comes with it."

This shapes up as a pivotal year for Oher as he reaches a career crossroads in Baltimore.

Entering the final year of his $13.499 million rookie deal that included $7.82 million in guaranteed money, Oher is due a $3.785 million base salary this season. The Ravens have a decision to make on whether to re-sign Oher, who's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

The Ravens had preliminary contract talks with Oher about a year ago about a long-term deal, according to a league source, but never got close to the numbers it would have taken to strike a deal. They aren't currently in talks.

As a right tackle, Oher's compensation will be much lower than the pay of a left tackle.

Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas is playing under a seven-year, $89.6 million contact that included $37 million in guaranteed money. A recent deal for New England Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was much more modest, paying him $16.75 million over four years with a $7 million signing bonus.

"I would love to be here, but we'll see how it goes," Oher said. "I'm working hard and concentrating on this year. If something happens, it happens. If not, I'll continue to work hard."

awilson@baltsun.com

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Michael Oher

Age: 27

Size: 6 feet 4, 315 pounds

Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.

College: Mississippi

Career starts: 64

Acquired: Drafted in first round, 23rd overall after Ravens traded up three spots to the New England Patriots' pick.

Contract status: Entering final year of rookie deal

[Aaron Wilson]

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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