|Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press|
|Where does Michael Oher believe he ranks among the LT prospects? "I think I'm the best of the group," he says.|
INDIANAPOLIS -- Michael Oher was not about to be blindsided in his give-and-take with a group of reporters here on Thursday afternoon. So, Oher made sure he did the giving. This 6-foot-6, 322-pound offensive tackle proved quite nimble behind the microphone.
"Do you think your past is going to hurt you?" he was asked.
"What do you mean by that?" Oher, in turn, asked.
"I mean, can the story of your hardships be held against you?" was the spin.
"I think my past helps make me the talent and person that I am," Oher said.
"Think you should be mentioned among the other top three left tackles at this combine," Oher was challenged.
"I think I'm the best of the group," Oher insisted.
It was an unusual and odd blend from Oher, sometimes passionate, other times so mild-mannered and soft-spoken it was if he was half asleep.
Oher calls that "calm, laid-back, relaxed."
Some NFL teams are wondering if that means he will lack the relentless aggression and physicality they demand from their left tackle.
After all, that position, in most instances, protects the quarterback's blind side when he is in the pocket preparing to pass. It is a cornerstone position from which most offenses are built and can become the signature position for an entire team.
Oher says check the record. He allowed no sacks last year at Mississippi. One sack the year before. Four total in his career, he said.
And as far as the Michael Lewis book, "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game," which chronicled Oher's life in Memphis, Tenn., before 2006 -- a father he never really knew who was murdered, a mother battling drug addiction, the repeat of both the first and second grades and 11 different schools in his first nine years, foster homes, homelessness and, finally, a family that took him in and gave him stability and hope -- well, Oher said he has never bothered to read it. And the fact that it could one day become a movie? Oher shrugged that off, too.
Tom Cable, the Oakland Raiders' coach, said no matter.
"An offensive lineman not only giving interviews but having a book written?" Cable asked, smiling. "That breaks the code. You know linemen don't talk. So what if he hasn't read it -- he already said it all. I think this player is very interesting for a lot of people at this combine. He is a good player who jumps out at you, the consistency, the flexibility. He really has great athletic ability."
Oher said that attribute -- athletic ability -- is one he has had to match with attitude, hunger, nastiness, temper, the grimy stuff that NFL teams want from their left tackles. Oher believes he has it, but, really, he has to find a way to convince questioners of that here in his drills, in his interviews.
His passion for football goes beyond his rugged background and the questions of his temperament.
"It has been a little more than a year since I lost my brother, Deljuan, in a car accident back in Memphis," Oher said. "I have 12 brothers and sisters. Deljuan was 25, and he was in a car with two other of my brothers. The car wound up wrapped around a telephone pole. He didn't make it. I got the call after a game we had played against Vanderbilt. No matter what had happened to me before, my struggles, my story, you cannot prepare yourself for that kind of call. He was just like me -- calm, laid-back, relaxed.
"I think about him every day. I think I've taken from that how much life I have to live, how much football I have left to play and how I will succeed in this game. I will be successful at this in the NFL. I am driven toward it all and know the value of hard work and pressing forward. That is how I got to this point. That is how I will reach all the great things to come in my career and in my life."
He has taken it all. He gets it. Now he will give it.
NFL teams are lining up here at the combine to have a word with Oher. To put him at the board and discern his football smarts. To challenge him over his past, his present, his future. They want to know that he can handle big money, the big time, make decisions about his future that will not hinge solely on correcting his past. That he can move forward without being whacked by his past and some of the people closest to him who, in the end, will want his fortune as much as his friendship. Every young NFL player faces some of that. This one, to some of them, because of his fragile past, could be risky.
I have always believed that if NFL teams and coaches stay connected to the player and teach and advise him on these things as much as they do on how to handle the zone blitz that success all around can follow. Invest in your investment. The team that drafts Oher would be smart to do that, stay connected, help him figure it all out.
Much, he already has.
"A lot of people come up to me and say they feel like they already know me and are familiar with the struggles I had," Oher said. "That doesn't bother me. I'm going to build a different life for myself. A lot of stuff I will do for my family."
But first, more give-and-take here at the combine. And Oher has a flair for the giving part.