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As offensive line struggles, what does the future hold for Michael Oher?

Ravens need to decide whether to leave him at left tackle or move him to another position, as well as what to do when he becomes a free agent after the 2013 season

December 22, 2012|By Matt Vensel, The Baltimore Sun

Frustrated opposing defensive coordinators did, though, and started moving their top pass rushers away from Ogden's side. Since then, Ogden has seen a change in how defenses attack offenses — a change for which he feels lockdown left tackles like Orlando Pace, Walter Jones and himself are partially responsible.

"People are more varied in the way that they rush the quarterback," Ogden said. "Take Aldon Smith, for example, in San Francisco. He doesn't just play on the right end. The great players on defense aren't locked into one spot anymore. They will find matchup advantages, mismatches. They look for that [instead of] how Lawrence Taylor just used to line up against the left tackle."

The current-day Giants move talented, athletic pass rushers, such as Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka, all around their defensive line to confuse offenses.

Veteran Ravens center Matt Birk said "nowadays, there's so much volume on defense," compared to when he grinded his way into the NFL in 1998. The quality pass rushers are more prevalent. The blitzes are more exotic. And the scouting is more advanced.

"Sooner or later you are going to be exposed as a weak link, or you are going to hit them right in the mouth," he said.

But to keep their left tackles from being exposed and their right-handed quarterbacks from getting crushed, many teams, including the Ravens, often shift their protection schemes to the left, with the left guard there to help the tackle if he gets beat hard to the inside.

In passing situations, teams also leave running backs or tight ends to block on the blind side or at least ask them to throw a hip or a shoulder into a blind-side blitzer on their way into their routes.

Lending an overmatched left tackle that much support, though, will leave other offensive linemen — often the right guard, right tackle, or both — alone to fend off other pass rushers, according to Ross Tucker, a SiriusXM NFL Radio host who played five NFL seasons as an interior lineman.

"You can make a case that when it comes to pass protection, playing right tackle is harder than left tackle, depending on who you are going against and what the play-caller is calling," he said.

Ogden also concedes the left tackle position has been devalued a bit, on the field at least, but it is still important.

"If you have a weak left tackle, they prefer to exploit that position because most quarterbacks are right-handed, so that's the blind side," he said. "That's where you get sacks, strips, fumbles."

Oher's future in flux

Sacks, strips and fumbles at the expense of Oher in recent weeks have left some to question not just his short-term job security at left tackle, but his long-term future at the position as well.

Oher will be a free agent after the 2013 season and should be in line for an increase in salary from the $3.085 million he is slated to make next season after triggering escalator clauses in his rookie deal. The Ravens have had preliminary contract talks with Oher's agent, Jimmy Sexton.

Tackles Trent Williams (Washington), Joe Thomas (Cleveland), Jake Long (Miami) and Jordan Gross (Carolina) are among the highest-paid non-quarterbacks, each earning eight figures in 2012.

The Ravens declined comment for this article, but their perception of Oher — is he their left tackle of the future or is he better suited to be a mauling right tackle? — will ultimately dictate how deep into their pockets they are willing to dig to retain one of the NFL's most popular players.

"Because he's not that smooth, and because he's not a technician, he would probably be best inside or maybe at right tackle," Tucker said. "But they are kind of past that unless they get a better alternative at left tackle. Maybe he would be more of a Pro Bowl-caliber player at left guard, but do you want that or a functioning left tackle? Because he is a functioning left tackle."

Charley Casserly, a former NFL general manager who is now an analyst for NFL Network, says Oher has "shown a lot of promise" and that he has a chance to be "a decent left tackle."

Casserly, who isn't buying the argument that the position is any less valuable than when Taylor stalked quarterbacks, also said the Ravens, as perennial playoff contenders who often pick late in the first round of the NFL draft, are in an "awfully difficult situation" to find a better option.

"I know he has some points in there when he gets beat, but it's more positive than negative," Casserly said. "We know he can play right tackle, so you've got that one solved. But you would like him to be the left tackle because that would certainly help your team in the long run more."

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