Ole Miss junior offensive lineman Michael Oher basically stepped on campus as a starter.
That's fairly rare in the SEC on the OL, but Oher is a rare breed.
Blessed with an uncommon physical prowess, Michael didn't hesitatte to make his mark on Rebel football, learning on the fly and producing at the same time.
Now, as he enters his third campaign, Oher is one of the grizzled vets, a three-year starter who is holding down the left tackle slot for the second year in his career.
The difference in the Michael Oher from 2005 and the Michael Oher today is night and day.
He's leaner, he's stronger, he's faster and he's way more knowledgeable and he feels the rest of the OL has made the same kind of progress.
"I see us coming together well. I think we have gotten better in every category and at every position," said Oher, now down to 315-320 on the scales after playing his first year at 335 or so. "We are communicating a lot better and that's key for us.
"Coach (Art) Kehoe and Coach O stressed to us that we had to communicate better than we did last year so that's been our biggest goal through spring and up to now. I think we are 100% better at that and that has made us a better unit. We are all physically better as well. We have all worked hard to get our bodies in great shape and I think we are starting to show what we can really do now."
Oher said the OL, in his mind, has become more versatile. Last season, they got good grades in run blocking but faltered at times in pass protection, but in fall camp this year, to this point, he can see the OL being well-rounded.
"I think we can do it all now. I think we have gotten better in run blocking and I think we have started to shore up our pass protection and it will only get better," he explained.
There was a missing piece to the OL "pie" when spring started - LG Andrew Wicker, the leader of the unit in 2006, was gone. In spring, sophomore Reid Neely took his place.
"We won't miss a beat with Reid in there. He had a special spring and I don't think we will miss a beat without Andrew in the lineup," Michael assessed.
One of the goals of the offseason was for some of the O-linemen to "lean up," Oher included.
"We all did what we were supposed to do. I lost down to where they wanted me, John Jerry and Mo Miller also lost weight and got leaner. We can all tell a difference in our movement and endurance," he stated. "I think we are a quicker OL now.
"I think we are in good shape because we are handling this heat fine. We are all walking off the field under our own powe every day. That's an accomplishment in itself for the big guys," he smiled. "When you are as big as some of us, it's like carrying around an extra person on your back, but we are in good shape and are handling it.
"If you make it off the field in this heat, you are in good shape, and we're doing that."
While Michael has made worlds of progress in his three years at Ole Miss, he says he's still learning and trying to get better.
"There's a lot to know. Experience helps you with some of that, but you have to constantly work on getting it all down, like reading defenses and understanding all the different fronts and blitzes you see," he continued. "I'm at left tackle for the second year now and it's home tome. I really couldn't go back and play guard now, I don't think.
"There's more one-on-one at left tackle, but I enjoy it more. I like the challenge of knowing if I slip up it's a sack. I like that responsibility."
Oher said the OL was doing well in camp, but it waasn't all about them.
"Having veteran running backs has helped us too. They know what to do and how to finish. If we make a mistake, instead of being a loss, they can adjust on the run and still get a couple of yards because they know what to do," Michael said. "It gives you a little relief up front to know that. Even though we try to be perfect, it doesn't always work that way and knowing the RBs have your back is a good feeling."
Coach Ed Orgeron has touted the OL as being a strength of the team. Oher said he likes that responsibility as well.
"We want to be the unit that fuels the offense," he closed. "We like being considered a strength. We have worked hard to reach that status and we want to keep it."
Michael Oher update -
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