The Carolina Panthers still hope left tackle Michael Oher will play again this season, despite the fact that Oher remains in the concussion protocol nearly two months after first experiencing symptoms.
Oher has missed the past six games and the team has said little about the nature of his symptoms during the time he’s been sidelined.
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But a league source said Oher is experiencing sensitivity to light, as well as issues involving his vestibular ocular system, which is responsible for integrating vision, movement and balance.
Oher visited a highly regarded concussion clinic in Pittsburgh on Tuesday for the second time in recent weeks, the league source said. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s concussion clinic sees more than 17,000 patients each year, including many college and pro athletes.
Vernon Williams, a neurologist and director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine in Los Angeles, said there are a number of ocular-related symptoms in people recovering from a concussion.
Williams said the most common involves problems with the ocular motor system, creating difficulties in tracking objects equally with both eyes and maintaining focus on a target.
Williams said 80 to 85 percent of athletes (high school, college and professional) are symptom-free 10 to 14 days after sustaining concussions.
As of Tuesday, Oher had been in the protocol 47 days and had symptoms for more than 50 days.
“So this is a long time. There’s no question about that,” Williams said. “But it doesn’t mean these won’t resolve because they certainly can. It just requires an ongoing search for what’s generating the ongoing symptoms.”
Oher, 30, first reported his symptoms on Sept. 30, although a source said he sustained the concussion initially either in a Week 2 game against San Francisco or early in a Week 3 loss to Minnesota.
Oher struggled in the Vikings’ game, allowing three sacks and picking up a holding penalty.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday the team has held off putting Oher on injured reserve – a move that would free a roster spot – for two reasons: The hope Oher can return this season, and the dearth of available offensive tackles who would be worth signing.
“We’re not putting any pressure on Michael to hurry back. We’re just (waiting) in case he’s available,” Rivera said. “It’s really hard to find (tackles). So we just thought we would hold on to see what the doctors have to say.”
Oher hasn’t been seen around Bank of America Stadium much in the past seven weeks. Teammates say they’ve texted with him, and Rivera said Oher at times has been at the stadium while players are in meetings or at practice.
On two occasions two weeks ago, Oher walked two laps around the Panthers practice fields with a trainer by his side. He also briefly rode a stationary bike.
Players in the concussion protocol are not available to the media.
There are only six regular-season games left after Thursday’s game against New Orleans. Rivera hasn’t ruled out the possibility Oher could play again, although his status likely will be determined by what the doctors in Pittsburgh find.
“We’ll see. It all goes to him. We’re not trying to push him into anything,” Rivera said. “We’ve facilitated as much as we can and we’ll continue to do that. At the end of the day it’s really about his health. We did the same thing with Luke (Kuechly) and we’ve done the same thing with several other players.”