Oher stepping into starter's role

OWINGS MILLS -- The relative silence of Baltimore Ravens rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher is only confined to how the understated first-round draft pick sparingly chooses his words during conversations. Polite, soft-spoken and eager to learn, Oher is exceedingly deferential to veteran players during meetings and meals at the Ravens' training complex.

On the football field, though, it's an entirely different story. At the line of scrimmage, Oher's approach is all about intensity, muscle and aggression. Ever since his arrival in Baltimore, Oher has been delivering a series of powerful hand punches to big defensive linemen as he walls off pass rushers to protect quarterback Joe Flacco.

"He doesn't say much," veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce said Tuesday during the Ravens' passing camp. "He's very, very quiet, but I think he has the attitude of a serial killer. In a good way. I think he will be all right. "He has a quiet intensity about him, and it doesn't seem like he has much body fat. It's like, 'Wow, look at this guy.' He looks like Julius Peppers. He's going to be something."

Pryce is one of the few players to get the best of Oher so far, beating him during the 6-foot-4, 309-pounder's first NFL practice with an inside swim move. Getting past Oher, though, is a rare occurrence.

Following four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Willie Anderson's abrupt retirement announcement last week, which surprised several teammates and coaches, the Ravens need Oher to emerge as a viable potential starter.

With Adam Terry still sidelined following offseason knee surgery, Oher is taking every single snap with the first-team offense at right tackle.

"With Willie retired, it's definitely going to speed things up for me as far as having to learn everything," Oher said. "I have to do everything right to get ready to play on Sundays. This is just my second minicamp, so I think I'm doing well. I'm just out here playing football and having fun.

"It's what I love to do. I have a lot to learn, but it's fun, too. I'm getting better at my technique and fundamentals. I was surprised that Willie retired and I wanted to see what he did and try to learn from him, but I think I'm doing all right."

The Ravens drafted Oher with the 23rd overall pick, trading up in the first round to land the imposing consensus All-American blocker from Ole Miss. The early reviews have provided a consensus of commentary. Oher is as advertised, a hard-nosed, athletic blocker who could still stand for some more polish.

One day after Oher struggled a bit when lined up against outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, Oher appeared composed and fluid in firing off the football to engage defenders.

"Michael has done a nice job so far," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's got a lot to learn, but you see him make progress from one day to the next. Jarret Johnson had his way with him a little bit because Michael was a little heavy with his hands, got a little over-steady. "That's OK. You like to see a young guy getting after people, trying to punch people. Today, he got his weight back a little bit, got down, was still punching. He makes adjustments quickly."

Oher has been asking lots of questions, quizzing offensive line coach John Matsko, six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, right guard Chris Chester and left tackle Jared Gaither, among others.

Oher has a history of making a speedy transition on the football field having played for three different offensive coordinators in four seasons in college, winning the Jacobs Trophy as the top blocker in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference last season.

"Matt Birk definitely knows the ropes, so there's a lot I can learn from him," Oher said. "We've got a nice group here. They help me out a lot. "Chester is a great guy. I don't have any worries about learning anything. If I don't know something, I'm not afraid to ask for help. That's how you get better."

Because Oher might be called upon to start immediately with Anderson done playing football and Terry's considerable injury history, it's imperative that the rookie not show up late for training camp. Oher has instructed his agent, Jimmy Sexton, to avoid a contract holdout to ensure that he reports on time when camp starts at McDaniel College in late July.

"I want to play so bad," Oher said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to get to camp on time."

Oher's footwork is improving, and his conditioning is superior to most of the Ravens' offensive linemen. For a rookie, Oher seems advanced in his development.

"Being a rookie is tough," Birk said. "There's a lot of things going on. The best way to learn it is to get in there and just get going. Michael has tremendous talent. The sky is the limit."

Of course, it's a passing camp and these aren't full-contact drills. The real tests for Oher will come this fall against elite pass rushers like Pittsburgh Steelers reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year outside linebacker James Harrison, San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen and the Indianapolis Colts' tandem of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Although Oher plays right tackle, NFL teams often flop their best pass rushers to the other side. Oher doesn't sound intimidated by the distinguished pack of bull rushers and speed rushers that are awaiting him.

"I can't wait," Oher said. "I'm a competitor. I've just got to learn it all on the fly, mature and take it all in mentally. I just keep competing and fighting every day."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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