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Ravens: Team Trades Up, Takes Offensive Tackle Oher

Nfl Draft 2009

April 26, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

The Ravens did the unexpected Saturday - something team officials never envisioned before the start of the NFL draft - when they moved up to select Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher with the 23rd overall pick.

While many predicted the Ravens would target other positions in the first round - tight end, wide receiver, cornerback and inside linebacker - they reacted aggressively to grab Oher, trading a fifth-round pick to the New England Patriots to jump three spots.

Oher (pronounced oar), a consensus first-team All-America lineman, was rated among the top 15 players on the Ravens' draft board, but team officials presumed he would be drafted by the Buffalo Bills at No. 11.

"Quite honestly, we didn't expect Michael Oher to fall down that low," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "None of us like to give picks away, but when a player is that good and he's such a need and it's a perfect DNA match - you do it. It just fell that way, and we're ecstatic to get him."

Not only did the Ravens get their potential starting right tackle for this season, but they also added the success story of this year's draft.

Oher's journey has taken him from a homeless teenager to an NFL first-round pick.

One of 13 children, Oher lived on the streets in one of the poorest parts of Memphis, Tenn., trying to avoid foster care. He never knew his father, whose murder he learned of months after it happened while he was in high school. His mother was addicted to crack cocaine.

A league insider said Oher slid further than expected because teams were worried about his intelligence. His grade-point average as a high school sophomore was 0.3.

The last player drafted out of the Green Room at Radio City Music Hall, Oher took the stage with his adoptive parents, who welcomed him into their family when he was in high school.

"It's been a long journey," a teary-eyed Oher said. "Baltimore just got a great player. I'm not going to let them down. I'm going to give them everything I got."

He later added, "I felt like I was the best tackle in the draft."

The Ravens, who hadn't drafted an offensive tackle in the first round since Jonathan Ogden in 1996, stressed the fact that Oher is a tough-minded player.

"He's had a lot of adversity," DeCosta said. "This is not going to be too big for him. He's been through a lot - a lot more than most of us. I think he's going to be a great Raven."

Midway through the first round, the Ravens had two targeted players - Oher and Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

When Pettigrew was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the 20th pick, the Ravens immediately made calls to move up from the No. 26 spot. The Ravens were worried that the Bills, who recently traded away offensive tackle Jason Peters, would try to trade up ahead of them from the 28th pick and grab Oher.

"That's why we were protecting our territory a little bit," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Once the Ravens made the pick, offensive line coach John Matsko and assistant Andy Moeller burst into the team's draft room, high-fiving and jumping around.

"They want to start walk-throughs tomorrow when Michael comes in," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

Oher will compete with Willie Anderson at right tackle, which was a position the Ravens tried to address in the offseason. The team talked to free agent Marvel Smith and nearly signed Orlando Pace.

But the Ravens now have another prospect to add to their growing offensive line. Oher, 22, could team with left tackle Jared Gaither, 23, left guard Ben Grubbs, 25, and right guard Marshal Yanda, 24, to protect quarterback Joe Flacco for years to come.

"Protecting our quarterback is going to be paramount for us," Newsome said. "If you look at offensive line, with the youth we have on it and the leadership we have with [center] Matt Birk, we feel very good to go into 2009, 2010 and 2011."

In the second round, the Ravens drafted Utah defensive end-linebacker Paul Kruger, another player with an interesting history.

At 23 years old, Kruger has already survived a stabbing that nearly cost him his life and a car accident that cost him his spleen and a kidney.

In January 2008, he nearly died after a confrontation with a group of gang members left him with slashes to his ribs and abdomen that required 50 staples. In 1999, he lost a kidney at age 13 when a Jeep Wrangler in which he was riding rolled over and landed on him.

"We have the best trainers in the NFL, and they have comfort level with him," DeCosta said of Kruger's medical history. "For us, it's not really an issue."

Newsome said he had offers from other teams to trade out of the second round and acquire more picks, but he didn't have discussions about trading that pick for another player (like Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin).

In the end, the Ravens stayed with the 57th overall pick because they placed too much value on Kruger, who had 10 1/2 sacks and 24 tackles for losses in 26 games at Utah.

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