Ravens land Oher in first round

OWINGS MILLS -- Once imposing tight end Brandon Pettigrew had eluded their grasp, the Baltimore Ravens immediately regrouped and put on a bull rush to land athletic Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher. The Ravens drafted the All-American blocker with the 23rd overall selection of the first round Saturday after trading their 26th pick and a fifth-rounder to the New England Patriots.

Consequently, the Ravens were able to acquire one of their highest-rated players and address a position of need that they have been looking to upgrade the entire offseason after a pursuit of free agent offensive tackle Orlando Pace and preliminary discussions with Marvel Smith.

With the Ravens, Oher will immediately compete for a starting job at right tackle with Willie Anderson and also provides capable insurance behind left tackle Jared Gaither.

"Quite honestly, we didn't expect Michael Oher to fall down that low," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "None of us like to give picks away, but when a player is that good and he's such a need and it's a perfect DNA match, you do it. It just fell that way, and we're ecstatic to get him. ...

"I think a lot of the great players have a chip on their shoulder. They've overcome a lot, particularly Michael Oher. He's had a lot of adversity. He's tough-minded. He comes from a tough background, and he's overcome a lot, a lot more than most of us. He's determined, he's tough and I think he's going to be a great Raven."

Oher's life story represents a remarkable personal triumph after experiencing uncommon adversity during his formative years.

The 22-year-old grew up homeless in a rough Memphis, Tenn., neighborhood as the son of a mother addicted to crack cocaine and a father who was practically a total stranger. His father was murdered when Oher was a junior in high school, allegedly pushed off a bridge. It took months for Oher to learn about his father's death.

The subject of the New York Times' best-selling novel called The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, Oher was in and out of foster homes and attended 11 schools during his first nine years as a student. He repeated first grade and second grade.

Eventually, Oher was adopted by a wealthy family and emerged as an unlikely blue-chip recruit after enrolling at an exclusive private school called Briarcrest Christian School. "Just to make it to the NFL and get drafted, I never saw it coming," Oher said during a conference call. "Where I'm from, nobody makes it out. I'm definitely blessed. I have a passion for the game. I have every tool that you need to succeed on the offensive line, and I'm determined to help my team win."

Oher was nurtured by the Tuohy family that adopted him, helping him to catch up academically to qualify for a football scholarship. Ultimately, the 6-foot-4, 309-pounder developed into an All-Southeastern Conference blocker who won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy and was a finalist for the Outland Trophy.

"Football is won in the trenches," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "If you can dominate upfront, you're going to have a chance in just about every game. It just couldn't work out any better for us on offense, than with Michael Oher."

Now that the Ravens solidified their quarterback situation last year with starter Joe Flacco, they have added a pivotal blocking asset to keep him healthy.

"Protecting our quarterback is going to be paramount for us," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "It was Michael Oher we had targeted. It starts with protection. If we can protect Joe, we know he can make all of the throws.

"If we can take care of Joe, then Joe will take care of us. If you look at our offensive line, with the youth we have on it and the leadership we have with Matt Birk, we feel very good to go into 2009, 2010 and 2011."

Oher took an official visit with the Ravens a few weeks ago, but they expected him to go much higher in the draft. Several draft analysts predicted he would be picked by the San Francisco 49ers with the 10th overall pick or the Buffalo Bills with the 11th overall pick.

Instead, the Ravens were able to maneuver to get Oher because they were concerned that other teams drafting behind them would move up to get him. The Bills, who also had the 28th overall pick after trading Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jason Peters to the Philadelphia Eagles, could have executed such an upward move.

Newsome pulled off yet another draft day trade with Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

"We felt like there were some teams with multiple picks in the second and third round that could use that ammunition to get ahead of us," Newsome said. "So, that's why we were protecting our territory a little bit.

"The thing that Michael gives us is, not only can he come in and compete at right tackle, but if something was to happen to Jared, he can jump over to the left. That has added value to us."

The Ravens were somewhat disappointed to not get Pettigrew, the top-ranked tight end, but weren't exactly in mourning that he went to the Detroit Lions with the 20th overall pick since they wound up with an elite blocker in Oher.

"We liked Pettigrew, but we love Michael, too," DeCosta said. "We love the way he plays. ... We're in a very physical division, we're a physical team, and offensive-line wise, we feel he's a huge upgrade for us. He's a special kid with a great story. A great player, we think he helps us big-time."

Oher was the fourth offensive tackle off the board, following the St. Louis Rams picking Jason Smith (Baylor), the Cincinnati Bengals picking Andre Smith (Alabama) and the Jacksonville Jaguars tabbing Eugene Monroe (Virginia).

The Ravens felt comfortable with Oher, considering he thrived against top-notch competition in college and has a ton of video where his blocking prowess was on display.

"When you're watching guys who play in the SEC, you're seeing guys who are playing against guys who are going to be in the NFL," Newsome said. "You're watching good versus good when you sit there watching him play against a Robert Ayers or some of the other great players."

Oher has drawn mild criticism for his seemingly laidback nature and for a lack of ideal weight room strength, bench pressing 225 pounds 24 times. He also had a history of academic problems in high school that drew scrutiny in NFL circles.

"A lot of people questioned my passion for the game," Oher said. "If you knew me, you wouldn't say anything like that. I can't wait to show them what kind player they got."

Oher doesn't lack for confidence. He struck a determined stance immediately after becoming the final player that was invited to New York by NFL officials to get drafted.

"It's been a long journey," Oher said while shedding tears of joy. "Baltimore just got a great player. I'm not going to let them down. I'm going to give them everything I've got."

Referencing his extremely difficult childhood, Oher said that the Ravens are getting a hungry young man extremely eager to prove himself.

"It made me a tough guy," Oher said. "The NFL is not going to be hard for me. I can't wait."


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