SAN JOSE, Calif. – It has been a long time since the book and hit movie about his life, a lot of years since Michael Oher enjoyed Hollywood-style celebrity that no one else in Super Bowl 50 – not even Cam Newton – has experienced.
Oher’s career as an NFL offensive tackle has gone through a whole bunch of ups and downs. Until early last year, after being released by the Tennessee Titans and then joining the Carolina Panthers shortly thereafter, there were more downs.
Now, Oher finds himself playing in his second Super Bowl and feeling far better about himself than he has at any point as a professional.
“You come from one of the worst teams to one of the best teams,” he told reporters. “You get people telling you that you’re not good enough to be around anymore and now you’re here in the Super Bowl. It just shows that you can do anything you want to and that you put your mind to. Just don’t listen to people or what people say.
“You’ve got to look yourself in the mirror. You can’t put your dreams and the things that you want to accomplish in other people’s hands.”
In 2006, Oher’s journey from a hellish childhood – he was he one of 12 children born to an alcoholic and crack cocaine addict mother and a father who was often in prison – to being adopted by a family that hired a tutor for him to being recruited to the University of Mississippi, was chronicled in a book and eventually an Academy Award-winning movie, “The Blind Side,” in 2009. That year, Oher became a first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.
In 2013, he would win a Super Bowl with them, but during his first five seasons in the NFL, he frequently alternated between left and right tackle, never finding a true spot to call home. That led to talk about Oher being a bust, because premier tackles are supposed to play on the left side – the “blind side” of a right-handed quarterback. He then joined the Titans in 2014, but injuries limited him to 11 starts (during which he gave up six sacks).
After his release last February, Oher estimates that about a half-dozen teams expressed interest in signing him before he joined the Panthers, who had a strong recruiter in Newton.
Oher settled into left tackle with the Panthers, reuniting with offensive line coach John Matsko, who had the same role when Oher joined Baltimore but left the Ravens two years later.
“After he left, his techniques and his philosophies were still taught until my last year in Baltimore,” Oher said. “I just wanted to come back and be coached from him and things like that. ... I played more games at left tackle than right tackle with Matsko when I was in Baltimore. He knew the kind of talent that I had, the kind of ability I had and I knew what kind of coach he is. So I think that’s why they trusted me playing left tackle this year.”
Through another round of hires, Greg Roman’s phone didn’t ring. The Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator was bypassed for the likes of Doug Pederson, Chip Kelly, Hue Jackson, Mike Mularkey and Ben McAdoo. Bad news for him, but good news for a Bills offense entering Year 2 in his multidimensional offense.
One of Roman’s key chess pieces in San Francisco, tight end Vernon Davis, offered a strong vote of confidence on Thursday.
“He’s creative. Very creative,” said Davis, who’s now in Denver. “And he socializes with his teammates. He keeps it all business but then he has a side to him where he’s just a good dude. I had a grand opening of my art gallery out here in San Jose and he came to support me. He kind of fits the mold of a head guy. He’ll be a great head coach one day because he has those qualities.
“I was very appreciative of him and thankful to have him because he impacted my life, my career in his tenure as a 49er.”
Once Roman took over in San Francisco, quarterback Alex Smith’s slumping career was revived with a efficient 2011 season, Smith was eventually usurped by the dynamic Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers adjusted all along with three straight NFC Championship appearances.
No, Davis wasn’t always this complimentary of Roman. He once blamed a lackluster 2014 season on “game planning,” adding “I wasn’t really ever a factor in the offense.” That 2014 season, Davis caught only 26 passes for 245 yards and was then traded to Denver midway through the 2015 season.
In retrospect, thinking back as his 49er days, Davis had a different tune on Thursday. The tight end said that Roman knows “how to get the right personnel” in the game and then use “an outstanding scheme depending on the defense.” And in Roman’s very TE-friendly offense, Davis did have a lot of success, hauling in 52 receptions for 850 yards and 13 scores in 2013.
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