Oher On Board

Analysis: Right Tackle Final Piece Of Armor Protecting Flacco

July 31, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

The Ravens officially signed first-round pick Michael Oher on Thursday to a five-year contract, a multimillion-dollar deal that represents as much of an investment in franchise quarterback Joe Flacco as the rookie out of Mississippi.

The contract is valued at up to $13.8 million, with $7.8 million guaranteed, according to an NFL source.

When the Ravens take the field today for their first full-team practice of training camp, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Oher is expected to line up as the team's right tackle, becoming the final piece of the Flacco Protection Plan.

"We sat here a year ago, drafted a quarterback, and hoped that we didn't have to deal with that for a while," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We're hoping the same thing now with Michael. We have a talented, young offensive line."

This Ravens' offensive line will undoubtedly rank among the youngest in the NFL. If everything goes according to Newsome's plan, it will also rank among the best.

Last season, Flacco started every game and was never listed on the injury report, a streak the Ravens hope continues this year.

The foundation of this line was built in the 2007 NFL draft, when the team selected left guard Ben Grubbs in the first round. It was the first time the Ravens had used their first pick for an offensive lineman since they chose perennial All-Pro Jonathan Ogden in 1996.

Later in the 2007 draft, the Ravens traded three picks to move up into the third round to take right guard Marshal Yanda. Although Yanda could be sidelined for training camp as he recovers from knee surgery, he is expected to play this season.

Then, in the 2007 supplemental draft (which accommodates players who didn't enter the regular draft), the Ravens used a fifth-round pick for left tackle Jared Gaither. It has been projected that Gaither could have gone in the first round of the 2008 draft.

The Ravens finalized their offensive front this offseason. After losing center Jason Brown to the St. Louis Rams in free agency, the team signed six-time Pro Bowl performer Matt Birk.

In the draft, the Ravens watched Oher, a player they had rated fifth on their board, slip to them at No. 23. Some league observers have questioned whether he would pick up NFL offenses. But the Ravens said they couldn't pass up Oher's agility, power and toughness.

"I'm the type of guy who doesn't want to let his team down," Oher said. "I told my guy [agent] to just hurry up and get me in camp. I think I'm ready to go, and feel I'm well conditioned. I think I'm very emotional, hard-nosed and have a passion for the game. Playing football and winning is very important to me."

Showing an eagerness to absorb Cam Cameron's offensive system, Oher arrived early for his first minicamp in May so he could learn the playbook. With the retirement of Willie Anderson and injuries to the other veteran tackles (Adam Terry and Oniel Cousins), Oher was thrown into the starting lineup and took nearly every snap with the first-team offense in the offseason.

"For him to get a contract done without the proper slotting says a lot about Michael Oher, and his willingness to be here," Newsome said.

The immediacy of Oher's signing - he was the sixth first-round pick to reach an agreement - is likely no coincidence. With Oher being able to suit up for the first full-team practice, it gives him a solid chance to beat out Terry and Cousins for the starting right tackle job.

The hope is that Oher brings stability to one of the historically unstable positions on the team. The Ravens have had 13 linemen start at least one game at right tackle over the past 10 seasons. The list began with Harry Swayne in 1999 and continued through last season with Anderson.

Oher has impressed his teammates with athleticism on the field and intensity off it.

Said defensive end Trevor Pryce, who went against Oher in minicamps, "He's very, very quiet, but I think he has the attitude of a serial killer ... in a good way."

And Flacco told ESPN's 1st and 10 he was impressed with Oher's athleticism and he was looking forward to having him protect the quarterback for the next 10 years.

With Oher, the Ravens have solidified a line in front of their young quarterback for years to come. Other than the 33-year-old Birk at center, the other four starters are under the age of 26: Gaither (23), Grubbs (25), Yanda (24) and Oher (23).

The line did an average job of protecting Flacco last season, giving up 33 sacks (which ranked 18th in the 32-team NFL).

If this line can give Flacco time to throw, the next step for the Ravens is to find a wide receiver, which remains the biggest question mark of this year's training camp.

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