When the Carolina Panthers begin the third phase of organized team activities Tuesday – the phase that starts to resemble real football – they are expected to do so without offensive tackle Michael Oher.
Oher’s status has been a mystery since the last week of September when he entered the concussion protocol and – other than firing off an occasional social media post – hasn’t been heard from since.
Oher skipped the first five weeks of the Panthers’ voluntary offseason workouts and has given no indication that he plans to return to Charlotte until the team’s mandatory minicamp in June, if then.
While Oher still has not been cleared from the protocol, his absence is not solely related to the brain injury that sidelined him the final 13 games of last season, according to several sources.
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They say Oher also has been dealing with personal matters that include but are not limited to the fallout from his April 14 altercation with an Uber driver in Nashville, Tenn., where Oher lives during the offseason.
He has a court appearance scheduled for June 6 on the misdemeanor offense.
Oher gained worldwide fame with “The Blind Side,” the best-selling book about his life story that was turned into a 2009 hit movie. Oher was a first-round pick by Baltimore that year and played five seasons with the Ravens, winning a Super Bowl ring in 2012.
After a disappointing one-year stint in Tennessee, Oher signed with the Panthers and started every game at left tackle during their Super Bowl season of 2015.
His play earned him a three-year, $21.6 million extension last summer – a contract eclipsed this offseason when left tackle Matt Kalil signed a five-year, $55.5 million deal that is the richest the Panthers have ever given a free agent who was not already on the roster.
Panthers officials seem to be willing to give Oher a wide berth to sort through his issues, although a source with knowledge of the situation says Oher is out of shape – a development his mug shot that was released two weeks ago appeared to confirm.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has expressed optimism that Oher will be part of the 2017 plans, while also saying repeatedly he didn’t wantOher to feel like he was being forced back before he was ready.
Teams can fine players for skipping minicamp and missing weight benchmarks, although Oher’s status in the protocol clouds things.
Making sure Oher is completely recovered from his brain injury, which brought on vision and balance problems last fall, has to be the first priority.
But the Panthers put Plan B in motion last month by drafting Western Michigan tackle Taylor Moton in the second round. Moton will compete with third-year tackle Daryl Williams – a competition that could involve Oher or decide who gets his spot.
If the past eight months are any guide, the situation figures to drag out a while longer.