In mid-June Michael Oher got the biggest contract of his life.
The Carolina Panthers signed Oher to a three-year extension worth $21.6 million, including a $9.5 million signing bonus.
His fellow offensive line teammates showered him with praise on Twitter in the form of clips from “The Blind Side,” the Oscar-winning picture adapted from a book on Oher’s upbringing.
He can’t even remember how he celebrated.
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“I just, you know, I didn’t do anything major,” Oher said Sunday at Wofford College during Panthers’ training camp. “I forgot what I did but it wasn’t anything major.
“I was excited. They gave me an opportunity to be here a while longer. Guess I had to work a little harder in the summer. Gotta earn and continue to prove myself.”
Such is Oher’s personality. He’s never loud, and is happy to fly under the radar. At times he can seem like he’s almost embarrassed by the fame he’s gotten from the movie.
But the Panthers welcome Oher’s quieter ways.
“We accept people for who they are. We don’t ask anybody to change anything that they are, nothing that they do,” veteran defensive end Charles Johnson said. “We want you to be who you are because that brings the character out in everybody. If you are an outspoken guy, be outspoken. If you are a role player, be a role player. As long as you know your job, and know what you got to do.”
A Carolina resurgence
Oher got his extension after doing his job well in 2015. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman signed Oher before last season on a two-year deal worth $7 million after Oher made it just one season in Tennessee on a four-year deal.
It seemed like Oher’s better days were behind him when Carolina – desperate for a left tackle after a dreadful 2014 season at the position – signed him. But Oher had the best season of his career in 2015 protecting Cam Newton’s blind side.
Oher allowed jus 31 pressures and a career-low four sacks last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
One of the strangest plays of his career came in Super Bowl 50 during pass protection. Late in the first quarter, Oher took on a rush by DeMarcus Ware and slid almost 5 yards on the Levi’s Stadium turf. Commentators have said it looks like a video-game glitch.
“That field, man, it was like it wasn’t grass. I don’t know,” Oher said. “I did my normal kickset and tried to dig my cleats in the ground and there was nothing there. It was like I was on ice.
“There was nothing I could do but just hold on. It was crazy. I got (the block) done, but if it would have kept going I would have ended up in the opposite end zone.”
Training camp focus
With his pass protection the best it’s been, Oher is taking this training camp to focus on finishing blocks in the run game. He said he’s been lax at that in recent years, and he’s putting more effort into finishing like left guard Andrew Norwell.
What’s helped Oher the most, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, was reuniting with offensive line coach John Matsko, who coached Oher for three seasons in Baltimore.
“Coach Matsko was very adamant that Michael could get the job done for us,” Ron Rivera said. “And we’ve got a lot of faith and trust in our coaching staff, and we have a lot of faith in the young man. He came in and told us he could get the job done and he worked very hard at it.
“He may not look pretty half the time – well … most offensive linemen don’t look pretty. But he’s going to get the job done.”
Pretty or not, Oher will face his old Baltimore Ravens on Thursday.
Oher spent five seasons in Baltimore, and this will be his second trip back to M&T Bank Stadium in another jersey after he and the Ravens couldn’t reach a contract extension in 2014.
“You definitely want to show those guys that you have a chip on your shoulder,” Oher said. “Definitely you want to show them, hey look what you guys missed out on. You want to do well for yourself and your team.”