After Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman expressed optimism about offensive tackle Michael Oher last week, head coach Ron Rivera took it a step further Wednesday, saying he expects Oher to play this year.
“Talking to Michael and listening to Michael, I believe he’s going to play,” Rivera said during the NFC coaches breakfast at the owners meetings.
Oher missed the final 13 games last season with a brain injury that was severe enough to cause him to experience sensitivity to light, as well as issues involving his vestibular ocular system, which is responsible for integrating vision, movement and balance.
Rivera didn’t say much about Oher once he entered the concussion protocol, and he and Gettleman were guarded in their comments about him at the NFL scouting combine last month.
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But after Gettleman said last week Oher had been “sweating his butt off” during daily workouts at Bank of America Stadium, Rivera said Oher has looked and sounded like his normal self when the two have visited.
“He looks good. He really does,” Rivera said. “It’s just one of those things that when it’s time to start doing everything, we’ll see how he is.”
While Oher remains in the protocol, Rivera said that might be a matter of semantics.
The final step in the protocol is getting clearance from an independent neurologist to return to play. But the Panthers won’t be on the field again until May, and Rivera says he believes Oher will be evaluated again before OTAs.
On another medical note, Rivera did not seem concerned about defensive end Charles Johnson’s recent back surgery.
After an epidural did not improve Johnson’s lower back pain, he underwent a microdisectomy to repair a herniated disc.
“This is one of those things that if you play football, you’re gonna have this. This was just an easy fix from my understanding,” Rivera said. “We’re just glad that it’s done and he’s feeling good and doing the things he’s supposed to be doing now.”
Rivera said he wasn’t sure of the recovery timeline for Johnson, 30, who re-signed with the Panthers on a two-year, $8 million deal.