Carolina Panthers

Michael Oher’s goal with Carolina Panthers: Less movie, more move forward

Carolina Panthers left offensive tackle Michael Oher listens to a reporter's question on Monday, April 20, 2015. The Panthers held a new conference in conjunction with the beginning of their off season workout program.
Carolina Panthers left offensive tackle Michael Oher listens to a reporter's question on Monday, April 20, 2015. The Panthers held a new conference in conjunction with the beginning of their off season workout program. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

It was 10 minutes into his first press conference with Charlotte media on Monday before someone asked new Carolina Panthers left tackle Michael Oher about the movie “The Blind Side.”

Apparently, his new teammates haven’t said much about the movie that chronicled Oher’s rags-to-riches story, either.

Give them time, Oher said.

“Pretty sure once everyone gets to know it, they’ll start making fun of me,” Oher said.

As long as Oher doesn’t become a punch line for his on-field play, it will be a step in the right direction.

Last season was a tough one for Oher and predecessor Byron Bell, who was not re-signed by the Panthers after failing to hold down the left tackle job he inherited after Jordan Gross retired after the 2013 season. Bell has had a couple of workouts, but has yet to sign with a team.

Meanwhile, Oher struggled in his only season in Tennessee after signing a four-year, $20 million deal with the Titans. Pro Football Focus ranked Oher among the 10 worst tackles after he gave up six sacks and allowed 26 pressures in 11 games.

Oher’s season was cut short by a toe injury, which required surgery and might have played a role in his protection problems.

“It affected me quite a bit. That’s something I’ve been dealing with for years,” Oher said. “During the game in my stance, I’d be thinking about that rather than thinking about the guy that I’m going against.”

After the Titans waived Oher in February, he signed a two-year, $7 million contract with Carolina a month later. After he joined the Panthers, one of the first calls he received was from Gross, now a part of Carolina’s broadcast team.

Gross said he’d always admired Oher, Baltimore’s first-round pick in 2009, from afar.

“When he played at Baltimore, I always thought he did a nice job,” Gross said. “I can sympathize with anyone playing the tackle position and understand the stresses of that particular job assignment.

“His pass sets looked the same all the time, and that’s a telltale sign of someone who works at what they’re doing.”

Oher, 6-4 and 315 pounds, considers himself a technician, saying he’s a “big fundamentals and technique guy.”

He learned a lot of that technique from Panthers offensive line coach John Matsko, who was Oher’s position coach his first two seasons with the Ravens.

The Panthers hope a reunion with Matsko and a return to health will produce a bounce-back year for Oher, who started all 80 games during his five seasons in Baltimore.

Oher, 28, said several times Monday he was pleased to be back with another good organization, as he was in Baltimore, which implied he thought the Titans were something else.

Oher, a Memphis, Tenn. native, declined to elaborate on why Tennessee was a bad fit.

“I like things to be run the right way, doing things right and just being on top of things,” Oher said. “I’m trying to put that (year with the Titans) behind me and move forward.”

He’ll move forward by moving back to his old position on the left side after playing right tackle with the Titans.

It seems odd a player who inspired the Michael Lewis book, “The Blind Side,” which led to the movie starring Sandra Bullock, would play anywhere but the left side.

“I’ll take the time this offseason to look myself in the mirror and find out a lot of things that I have to fix,” Oher said. “I think that was No. 1 for me. There’s a lot of things that I can correct and do better. You can always do more.”

Oher on Monday met the man whose blind side he’ll be protecting this fall. He said Cam Newton was as big and strong as advertised.

“He’s a specimen. I watched him walking into the locker room; he looks great,” Oher said. “I talked to Jordan Gross about it, and he was saying (Newton) saved him from a lot of sacks. It’ll be fun.”

The left tackle position is one of the most highly scrutinized positions on the field, to which Bell will attest. But it’s been magnified even more for Oher, according to Gross.

“If there’s a book written about you, I don’t know if you can ever live up to the expectations,” Gross said. “You could be (Hall of Fame tackle) Anthony Munoz and somebody would find a hole in your game.”

But Gross said he senses Oher, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2012 but has never made a Pro Bowl, has something to prove.

Oher said as much himself.

“I’m still chasing greatness and want to be great,” he said. “I still have time, (and) I feel like I have the ability, the attitude and just want to be great and not let these guys down. They won the division the last couple years. I’ve never heard anything bad about this organization. Everybody that I’ve met, they run things the right way.”

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