In 2010, the Baltimore Ravens made it to the second level of the playoffs, only to fall to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time in three years. Many fans point to the secondary or lack of a pass rush as their main problem that led to their demise. Others say the lack of an offense, be it a less effective running game or the inability to throw the ball downfield. Still others put the blame on the offensive line, which did not open huge holes for Ray Rice to run through nor provide QB Joe Flacco the pass protection he needed to find his receivers, who at times were just not open.
The offensive line is anchored by the left tackle, a position which now only trails the quarterback in highest average salary in the NFL. Once an afterthought on most teams the left tackle usually protects a quarterback's blind side, unless as in Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick, you are left-handed, at which point the right tackle assumes that responsibility.
Either way, this is where the offensive line's pass protection reputation is made or not. The center might call out the assignments on the o-line, but the left tackle already knows he has to block the opponent's best pass rusher every game, which is why his role is so important. On the Baltimore Ravens, that task now falls to 3rd year pro, Michael Oher. Oher moved from the right to left side in 2010 and had a rough go at it, to say the least. Giving up seven sacks along with being "credited" with 11 penalties, including eight false starts, frustrated so many fans that off-season sports-talk radio was flooded with calls for the team to find a "true" left tackle.
Most left tackle sin the NFL are tall, heavy and have long arms. Oher is average in height (6'4"), relatively light for a LT (316 pounds) but does not have the longer arms that so many other great left tackles have had in the past, notably former Ravens great Jonathan Ogden. Even former Ravens LT Jared Gaither had longer arms and more proto-typical size than Oher does.
According to a story in the Carroll County Times, Oher is a gym rat, always lifting to get stronger and has always been an athletic player with a mean nasty streak, which is a plus at the position. But is tat enough to protect Flacco's "blind side" now and into the future?
Many fans think not, but the public comments out of the team's leadership has never wavered from what they expected when they traded up in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft to grab the Ole Miss player whose life was chronicled in the award-winning movie, "The Blind Side."
Time will be the ultimate judge, and if Oher struggles in 2011 like he did last season, the team may think about looking elsewhere for their LT of the future. Right now, they still think that they drafted their next left tackle three years ago and will stand by their man. Hopefully, Ravens fans will as well, but it is all up to Oher to make sure that he deserves their praise rather than their criticism. We will certainly see right away, as the Ravens and Oher open up against the Pittsburgh Steelers and James Harrison, who is one of the best pass rushers in the business.