Michael Oher

With all that has been going on in the Ole Miss football program - eligibility issues, a fine class of freshmen to monitor, etc., it is sometimes easy to take for granted the "bird in the hand," so to speak. Michael Oher, for instance. Read about it iniside.

In a lot of cases, our society places value on something being "new."

New cars, new clothes, new technology. In college football, it's "new" players. Human nature leads us to want to know everything there is to know about the new guys, players who were not on the team the year before.

In that quest for familiarity with the unknown, sometimes the "old guys" are lost in the shuffle.

Just one year ago, true freshman OL sensation Michael Oher was the headliner of the "new" phenomena.

This year, freshman John Jerry, who ironically will start at right guard, which Oher manned last season as a true frosh, has garnered a lot of the attention.

Meanwhile, Oher, just a sophomore, has quietly gone about changing his body, changing positions, becoming a leader and anchoring the 2006 OL as a veteran, even though he's still young, performer.

"I'm totally different from a year ago. I'm stronger. I'm aware of what's going on. I'm more prepared and I understand how important it is to be prepared, where I probably wasn't last year," Oher, who has slid over to the all-important left tackle slot after a year as the right guard, said. "I understand how important it is to be focused in everything you do.

"In the offseason, I was more determined to get in better condition and change my body by dropping body fat and putting on muscle mass. I'm under 20% body fat now, but I still weigh around 330 pounds. I can tell a huge difference in my play because of all those things."

Oher said he never was really comfortable last year, but he did his best under the circumstances of being thrust into the starting lineup out of necessity.

"The OL schemes were more difficult, I didn't really know what to expect and I really didn't have time to learn like I would have liked to," he explained. "I can smile about it now, and it was a good experience in the long run, but it wasn't a lot of fun while I was going through it. I had some veterans who pulled me through it all, but I can't say I was comfortable last year."

This year, it's a different story.

Oher was switched to left tackle at the start of spring training and learned the position gradually. He made mental notes of what he needed to do in the offseason and completed those tasks religiously.

"There is nothing like being prepared. It felt good this fall camp not to have any surprises or any feelings of 'I wish I had done this or that.' I was ready to go when August rolled around," he declared.

Left tackle is the loneliest position on the OL. It's called being on the island, when your main duty to to take on speedy rush ends whose sole objective is collecting the head of quarterbacks.

"I'm out there by myself. At guard, you've got help on either side of you. At LT, it's all on you," he said. "There is a lot more one-on-one. Last year, I might have to worry about three different guys - depending on the line call - on a play. This year, I've basically got one guy. Me and against him. That's helped me out a lot - at least from the standpoint that I know who I've got and there is no indecision.

"On the other hand, it's all on you and right there in the open for everyone to see if you do your job or you don't. But I like that challenge."

As the opening game looms, Michael is aware of Memphis Defensive Coordinator Joe Lee Dunn and the confusion he tries to create.

"We just have to be aware that they will move around and come at you from every possible directiona and angle. We have to be aggressive and get after them to negate that," Michael said. "I faced some great players last year, so I know what to expect with the ability level of the players we will face. Schemes are schemes. If you are prepared and understand defenses, it's not that big a deal. If not, you will have problems. I will be prepared this year."

Michael is prepared to be more of a leader this year and has taken this year's phenom, John Jerry, under his wing.

"I have to be more of a leader because we don't have many offensive linemen with more experience than me, even though I'm just a sophomore," said Oher. "Coach O always says it doesn't matter what class you are in, you can be a leader. That's what we need, leadership, and I want to do my part. I want to be a part of the group of guys who step up and lead.

"All of the veterans have tried to help John. We have all been in the position he's in, but I'm probably more aware of it than anyone because I was also a true freshman starter. I know this about him - he's big, strong, aggressive and he works hard. He's not shy about asking questions and getting help and he tries to absorb everything he can.

"I've tried to help him in terms of letting him know what it takes. Every down intensity, preparation, watching film, doing his homework. He has listened. I think he listened because he knows I've been through it and I have told him what I wish I had done differently last year. But in the end, it will be up to him to get it done. I think he will."

When Sunday rolls around, a lot of eyes will be on the new guy - #77 - John Jerry. It's human nature because true freshmen are still a novelty and this one has a chance to be special.

But don't forget to take a good hard look at the guy in jersey number 74. Michael Oher - now a veteran.

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