Carolina Panthers left tackle Michael Oher may not have been able to participate in Wednesday’s practice, but he was there, and that was enough to put a huge grin on his face.
Oher took a public step in his recovery from the concussion protocol, arriving at practice after his teammates with trainer Ryan Vermillion and making two laps around the perimeter of the fields. He slapped hands with teammates and assistant coaches as he did so, amid shouts of “Mike!” from some.
“It was good to see him,” said head coach Ron Rivera on Wednesday afternoon. “We had an opportunity to spend a little time today and talk, and he seems to be in a good place.”
It’s a far cry from Oher’s longtime absence, during which speculation arose about whether he might be considering retirement. Rivera shot that down last week, while emphasizing the delicate and nuanced nature of the recovery process from a head injury.
It was the first time Oher has been at practice – at least during the portions open to the media – since he first reported post-concussion symptoms on Sept. 30.
Oher was greeted by general manager Dave Gettleman and later worked out on a stationary bike. The protocol includes a gradual return to activity, so it’s unlikely Oher would practice or play this week.
For quarterback Cam Newton, Oher’s continuation through the protocol and his progress brought introspection.
“I know we get up sometimes as if we are immortal or not supposed to make mistakes, but Mike is just a prime example of things still happen that make you realize that you’re still human,” said Newton, who went through the concussion protocol earlier this season. missing one game. “I’m blessed enough to be out. I went through what he’s going through, just a different timetable. But for us to actually see him out there and see a smile on his face and knowing that he’s trying, and getting the courage to get the feeling back, it’s good for us and good for him.”
Guard Trai Turner said Oher’s return was a positive sign of better health to come.
“I just can’t wait for him to get healthy just so he can do the things that he wants to do,” said guard Trai Turner. “Without having any side effects, I just want him to be able to walk and be fine.
“Every time I see him he’s improved, so I can’t do anything but take that positively. From the physical, he looks like Mike. But I guess the best way to put it is his energy wasn’t the same. His vibe was just a little different. I’m sure that comes with what he’s dealing with.”
Starting center Ryan Kalil, who sprained his shoulder Sunday vs. Arizona, joined Oher on the exercise bike. Outside linebacker Shaq Thompson, who sprained his knee in the Cardinals game, was not at practice, and neither was defensive tackle Vernon Butler. Rivera did not disclose the results of the MRIs on either Thompson and Kalil.