Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Dreams May Come 2009 – Michael Oher

In order to prepare for the NFL draft (and survive the unbearably long offseason), we've decided to check in on this year's draft class from time to time and discuss some of the potential future characters of the League that stand out for some reason or another. Today, Ole Miss OL Michael Oher.

Switchin Lanes - Kid Cudi

There are a lot of reasons why our draft coverage shouldn’t discuss Michael Oher. For starters, he’s already got an excellent book written about him (or at least half about him) in The Blind Side, and nothing I say will be as interesting a story as chronicling his use of the new gladiator arena to rise through the American hierarchy of class and race. Furthermore, for our purposes, Oher’s status as a phenomenal offensive lineman seems to defy what “What Dreams May Come” has always been about. While great offensive linemen are necessary to the success of any team, and they often serve to change the identity of a team single-handedly (Jake Long and Joe Thomas both did so in a way of which few skill position players could ever dream), there really isn’t any mystery surrounding the position. Rather, they either succeed or fail, and the way we measure one offensive lineman varies very little from the way we measure another. Certainly, men like these are the foundation of any great team, but cinder blocks, though excellent construction material, build poor daydreams.

Except Michael Oher is something different. You watch him play, and the wonderful character from The Blind Side comes to life. I’m not talking about the sweet story of rags to riches either; I’m talking about the beastly man-child who yearned for people to notice not his mammoth frame, but his quickness. Watch the embedded video and the first thing that will jump out to you is Oher’s ability to move effortlessly from one defender to the next, locating defenders and beating them to the point of attack as though he knew where it would be long before the play was even dialed down to the field. It’s a freakish level of quickness achieved with remarkable consistency. The problem is that we now need a new word for freakish, because when you first take in the ballet of Michael Oher, it’s easy to forget that he’s 6’4” and weights 309 pounds.

That’s the real beauty of watching Oher’s growth; both as a player and a person in The Blind Side, we’re constantly reminded of a young man whose nature is one thing and whose form is another, and the result is a fight against the natural movement from one phase of development (gifted manchild) to the next (overpowering behemoth). Certainly, anyone whose even glanced at Jung knows the result of that kind of stagnation in progress is bad news (not saying that Oher will wind up talking to voices in his head, but that’s a pretty low goal ceiling for a potential all-pro lineman). Could it be that this is responsible for what many see as an inconsistency in performance by a lineman with so many natural gifts?

Or maybe we just need to shift Oher’s archetype. Rather than being stagnant in his development, maybe he’s simply developing in a different direction. We’ve all seen offensive linemen who have raised the ceiling for how overpowering a blocker can be; maybe Oher is another step in the direction of former Ravens great Jonathan Ogden, who stunned defenders with his ability to beat them not only to the action, but even to their reaction. If that’s the case, the Oher doesn’t need to be feared, but rather coaxed into his natural next phase, and any attempt to force him into the more common track for linemen would be the worst thing for him. After all, if the skill positions are won and lost at the climaxes of plays, leaving their battles to one grand moment, the trenches are won in a series of little attacks, retreats, diversions. True, the search for the overpowering behemoth that wins the game by essentially smashing the chess board is always fun, but the search for a versatile player with the quickness of both mind and physicality to win the game according to its rules is no less worthwhile. In short, Oher doesn’t need to be told that he’s moving in the wrong direction; he just needs better equipment for the narrow road he’s chosen.

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