|Michael Oher, whose personal life is dramatized in “The Blind Side,’’ has been outgoing and engaging with his teammates. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)|
Oher’s turned a blind eye to the past
Ravens rookie looking forward
OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Michael Oher has never been one to sit and contemplate the fateful twists and turns of his extraordinary life.
His rags-to-riches story, dramatized in the movie, “The Blind Side,’’ adapted from the book by Michael Lewis, is something he’d rather not spend time rehashing. Part of that reluctance stems from Oher’s guarded persona. But it also has a lot to do with the fact that he just doesn’t spend much time dwelling on the past.
It mattered little to Oher when he was asked if he ever wondered about his NFL career starting in Foxborough, Mass., instead of Baltimore had the Patriots not traded the No. 23 pick of the 2009 draft. The Ravens moved up to acquire the pick, which they used to select the 6-foot-4-inch, 310-pound offensive tackle from Mississippi.
“I never think about the past,’’ Oher said, preferring to focus on tomorrow’s AFC wild-card matchup with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. “I’m a Raven, so that’s all I think about.’’
It’s not that Oher is in denial about his past. He acknowledges his childhood was far from idyllic.
He grew up one of 13 children in one of the poorest sections of Memphis. He never knew his father, whom he learned in high school had been murdered. His mother, Denise Oher, became addicted to crack cocaine, which led to the scattering of his siblings to foster homes. After attending 11 schools in nine years, Oher was rescued from homelessness by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, who initially gave him food and shelter and, later, a permanent place in their family as an adopted son.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be here,’’ said Oher, who became a millionaire when the Ravens signed him to a five-year contract worth a reported $13.8 million. “Without them doing what they did for me, I wouldn’t be the person that I am. It’s a great story, great movie, great book.’’
There’s a bit of ambivalence in Oher’s monotone delivery. But that in no way suggests he doesn’t appreciate all that the Tuohys have done for him. Quite the contrary. It’s just that Oher is not prone to baring his soul for strangers. It takes time to get to know Michael Oher. His trust is not easily earned.
“It’s a learning process,’’ Sean Tuohy said. “You think about it, that’s the way it’s always been in his life. Most of us go in trusting people and we work away from that; we either distrust them after that or we continue to trust them. He distrusted everybody, because everybody let him down.
“It’s a backward process, and unfortunately that’s the part that takes time, but he’s a good kid. He’s the best kid in the whole world and I don’t want him to change.’’
But, in the locker room, there is evidence Oher has allowed his teammates into his circle of trust. To them, he is an open book. As Oher sat at his locker yesterday, veteran wideout Derrick Mason approached with a copy of “The Blind Side’’ and an autograph request.
“Can you sign it, ‘To my bestest, bestest friend, Derrick,’ ’’ Mason asked.
Oher was happy to oblige. As he peered over Oher’s shoulder, Mason corrected his rookie teammate. “That’s Derrick, with two Rs,’’ he said.
Oher broke into a laugh. “Well, there’s at least three different ways you can spell Derrick,’’ he told Mason.
“I never read the book and I haven’t seen the movie, but he’s been great in the locker room with us,’’ said quarterback Joe Flacco. “He’s really funny and engaging with everyone.’’
As he’s allowed his teammates and coaches to peel away the layers, Oher has revealed himself to be not only funny and engaging, but incredibly bright.
“He’s one of the brightest young football players I’ve ever been around,’’ said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. “The next thing you’re looking for in a tackle is consistency. If you have tackles who are inconsistent, it makes it hard to call plays. You got to know what you have in your tackles, and I know what I’ve got in Michael Oher; a guy who’s tough, smart, and who’s going to give me everything he’s got, and he’s consistent.’’
As well as physically gifted? “Oh, that goes without being said,’’ Cameron said. “But if I’m ranking his attributes, I mean, that gets you in the NFL, but that doesn’t necessarily keep you here.’’
Having spent time coaching many hulking tackles, Oher is “not someone I haven’t seen before, physically,’’ Cameron said. “But when you take into account all this other stuff as a rookie and then you throw in a book and a movie? And it hasn’t affected him one bit? That’s special.’’
Cameron, though, caught a glimpse of that after the team selected Oher.
“The day after the draft, in a very discreet way, he got word to us that he wanted the playbook as quickly as possible, and I thought, ‘Hmm, interesting,’ ’’ Cameron said. “He really didn’t come to me to get it. He wasn’t trying to impress me. He did it in a subtle way.’’
When Oher showed up in minicamp, two weeks after being drafted, he was prepared to begin immediately working with the first team.
“He’s never taken a snap with the second team,’’ Cameron said. “He went right to the first team, because we didn’t have anybody else. Everybody else was banged up. He went to the first team and he’s known what to do since Day 1. Obviously, he did some work before he got here, so he’s always been ahead of the curve.’’’
Although the premise of Lewis’s book, which centered on the evolution of the left tackle in the professional game, was that Oher was born to play the blind side. But he’s only had the opportunity to do so five times this season. The Ravens start 6-9 Jared Gaither at left tackle. When Gaither went down with a back injury in a 27-21 loss at New England Oct. 4, Oher started two games at left tackle against two of the league’s premier pass rushers: Cincinnati’s Antwan Odom and Minnesota’s Jared Allen in back to back weeks.
“Of course it’s a big difference going from right to left,’’ said Oher, who started 11 games at right tackle. “It’s a big difference because I got used to a position, so that makes a difference, but it’s all football at the end of the day.’’
It begs the question, though: Will Oher ever play the blind side in Baltimore?
“Will you see him on the left side?’’ Cameron said. “Yes, because we do that right now, anyway. We’re just fortunate that we’ve got two young tackles who can both play left and who can both play right.’’
When he was drafted, Oher vowed, “Baltimore just got a great player. I’m not going to let them down. I’m going to give them everything I’ve got.’’
Oher, who was voted AFC Rookie of the Month this week, did not disappoint.
“I know what to expect now out there on certain plays and certain downs and against different defenses,’’ Oher said, when asked about his individual growth. “I understand the game a lot more than I did before. From week to week, I got a lot better at understanding the game.’’
And, from week to week, the game got a lot better at understanding Michael Oher.
“He just has that natural distrust and there’s always that wall there and when the wall falls down, it’s never built again,’’ Sean Tuohy said. “But, unfortunately, he has such a keen sense of it. He’s a very complex kid who comes from a very noncomplex background and that’s just part of what makes him who he is.
“God sprinkles dust on a lot of us; He poured it on Michael.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.