Michael Oher's odyssey to the NFL Draft

Michael Oher's odyssey to the NFL

By Jeff Shepard - bio | email


Associated Press Writer

Michael Oher can't wait.

A journey that began on the streets of Memphis, Tenn., will end Saturday in New York when the All-American left tackle from Ole Miss is selected in the NFL draft. Oher was getting ready to pack his bag Wednesday night when he talked with The Associated Press about the trip and his expectations.

"I'm just looking forward to the experience," Oher said. "It's a once in a lifetime experience and I'm going to enjoy myself."

Oher's drawing a little more attention than your average hot prospect. His story of homelessness and loss has been chronicled in Michael's Lewis best-selling book "The Blind Side" and will soon be the subject of a movie.

It makes great TV, too. He'll be hitting the morning show circuit when he gets to the Big Apple.

He'll be talking about his past, but thinking about the future. The draft has long been pitched as the end of Oher's journey. The stories in books and movies have to have an ending, after all. But Oher sees it as just another step in the life he's made for himself since being adopted as a teenager by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy.

"It's definitely a continuation," Oher said. "Nothing's going to come to an end. I'm still just playing football and I'm still with my family. Nothing's changed. It's just the end of the chapter."

How that chapter ends is the big mystery. From the first moment scouts saw him, they predicted great things and set up expectations that carried more pressure than most people have to deal with in a lifetime. He's been compared to every great left tackle of the last decade, including Orlando Pace, the overall No. 1 pick in 1997.

Oher believes he's done the work to earn a high pick Saturday. He dominated his position in college, shutting down some of the best pass rushers over the last four years. And he believes his decision to withdraw his name from the draft last year and return for his senior season only improved his game.

The 6-foot-5, 330-pound player also took his case directly to his potential future employers, visiting in person with nine teams and participating fully in the NFL combine.

"I'm the best tackle in the draft and I just want to be picked like the best," Oher said. "I know I've worked hard enough and I want to be considered the best.

"I know I did everything in my power. I've gone out on the trips and gotten to know everybody. I'm just waiting to see."

Oher said he's gotten no hints from the teams he met with, which include No. 2 overall pick St. Louis and Cincinnati at No. 6.

"Everybody pretty much likes me," Oher said. "But those teams in the top 10 aren't going to tell you what they're doing. You just really can't tell with those guys."

The guys who put together the mock drafts believe Oher has dropped out of the top half of the first round with a handful of left tackles - Baylor's Jason Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe among them - earning more attention.

Gil Brandt says to ignore the talking heads. The NFL.com analyst and former Dallas Cowboys personnel director met Oher last year when he named the tackle to his Playboy All-American team.

"He's going to be a high pick. Everybody that has worked this guy out is just amazed at not only his ability, but his ability to comprehend things," Brandt said. "For a guy that had a limited background, he is as worldly as anybody I've been around. He's just a special, special person.

"Everybody just walks away (after interviews) saying I can't believe this guy is the kid I read about."

Ole Miss offensive line coach Mark Markuson thinks Oher went a long way to eliminating any knocks against him after deciding to return for his last season.

"His second half of the season his senior year, he took off in my opinion," Markuson said. "I think if you watch the film, most people agree that are looking at him and getting ready to maybe draft him. After spring last year, I knew he'd played a lot of games and was an athletic guy, but how is this guy going to be in our offense as we get going and progress? He hung in there, worked hard at practice and had a great attitude. We started winning a few games and he just accelerated I thought."

Early in his career Oher got by on athletic ability. Markuson challenged him to get stronger and more aggressive. He also brought consistency to the player's life, something he didn't have before coach Houston Nutt took over at Ole Miss.

"Let's face it, I was his third line coach," Markuson said. "In my opinion, that's difficult. When you have a revolving door at any major college football program, with position coach changes maybe every other year, that's hard. As a college kid, when you bring in different systems and one week you're zone blocking and one week your gap blocking, then the shotgun or what have you, it's just hard on a kid.

"We had a great relationship with him and I think he's going to continue to get better and better and better."

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