Oher Isn't Flashy, But Ravens Tackled Big Need By Drafting Him


April 26, 2009|By Mike Preston

The Ravens took out an insurance policy on quarterback Joe Flacco on Saturday night. When they moved up three spots in the draft to select Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher with the No. 23 overall pick, they were basically protecting their investment of a year ago, much as the Indianapolis Colts did nearly a decade ago after they selected Peyton Manning.

Oher isn't a sexy pick. Most offensive linemen aren't. The Ravens could have gone pretty by grabbing a wide receiver or cornerback, but they made a smart decision. They drafted Oher, a tough guy. With the move, they just improved their passing game and probably kept Flacco standing upright a few more times in 2009.

I know what some of you are asking. If this guy was so good, then why was he the No. 23 pick? And why wasn't he one of the top tackles chosen in the first 10 picks, along with Baylor's Jason Smith, Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Alabama's Andre Smith?

It's a simple answer.

Just look at Oher. There are no pretenses about him. He came from a tough background, one of 13 children. Oher doesn't come off as a Rhodes scholar or use four- or five-syllable words. He reminds me of the "Oddjob" character in the James Bond movie Goldfinger.

Oher is just one tough, ornery competitor. The Ravens rated him among their top 15 players in the draft and were ecstatic when they could make the trade with the New England Patriots to get him.

A lot of Ravens fans wanted a speedy receiver because they thought that player might be the missing link to the Super Bowl, but Oher could become that player. The Ravens' corps of receivers isn't as bad as advertised. Starters Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton are both possession types, but the biggest problem with the Ravens' passing game last season was they had to go to maximum protection to keep Flacco from getting smacked around.

Both tackles had problems. Jared Gaither struggled on the left side because of youth and inexperience, and Willie Anderson struggled on the right because of age and injuries. To compensate, the Ravens had to regularly keep in tight end Todd Heap or a running back to block. The result was that sometimes the Ravens had only two receivers in pass routes.

That could change now. It won't happen right away, but we could start seeing some results midway through the season. In the past, with apologies to the first group of offensive linemen that came here with the team from Cleveland in the mid-1990s, the Ravens have been soft on the offensive line.

But now, look at this group. Gaither is a tough guy, and so is left guard Ben Grubbs. Right guard Marshal Yanda is an absolute nut, and the Ravens have either Anderson or "Oddjob" at right tackle. In the middle, the Ravens have Mr. Cerebral, Pro Bowl center Matt Birk.

To me, that's sexy. It's an offensive line that is that is young, aggressive and tough.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome and director of player personnel Eric DeCosta were giddy about getting Oher. They all know football games are won in the trenches.

Harbaugh said Oher will challenge Anderson for the starting job in training camp.

Oher also is athletic and versatile. He played right guard at Mississippi as a freshman, then started at left tackle for three straight years. If Gaither gets injured, or can't get the job done, Oher could step in.

No one is saying Oher is the answer to all the Ravens' offensive problems, but the Ravens did fill a need with his selection. Next season when the Ravens play the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens might have someone who can block linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

And that's what the selection of Oher was all about: protecting Flacco.

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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