OWINGS MILLS – Michael Oher shuffled several feet to his left Friday, and it wasn’t just a case of the Baltimore Ravens deploying him as a pulling tackle.
The Ravens have shifted Oher to left offensive tackle with Jared Gaither vacating the spot and being moved over to the right side where Oher lined up last season as an all-rookie blocker.
Now the subject of the best-selling book and popular movie, “The Blind Side,” has been assigned to protect quarterback Joe Flacco’s blind side. This is expected to become a permanent move.
“Nothing is official,” said Oher, who took every snap at left tackle as the Ravens began a mandatory minicamp. “You’ve got to get used to every position that you play. It’s a muscle memory. It’s like taking a basketball player that’s right-handed and telling him to play left-handed. It’s a big difference.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated that he’s inclined to stick with this alignment at tackle as long as it’s an effective strategy.
“What we try to do with every unit is put the guys together the best way we can for the best group we can,” Harbaugh said. “I wouldn’t read too much into it. It’s going to be permanent as long as it’s the best thing for us. .. It’s not a big story to us.”
The tackle flop fueled rampant trade rumors that have surrounded Gaither for the majority of the offseason. The Buffalo Bills are extremely high on Gaither and have a major need at offensive tackle.
However, no deal is imminent and the Ravens would probably be reluctant to part ways with Gaither unless the compensation is extremely attractive.
Is Gaither aware of the trade rumors?
“They were rumors, it didn’t sway me here or there,” Gaither said. “A lot of people talk and a lot of people listen, so it is what it is. You just have to stay focused and be prepared for anything.
“You don’t want to stop what you’re doing and not work out because you’re looking forward to getting traded. Then when you get traded, you won’t be as good as you thought you were.”
Displaced from his old position and moved to a spot that he hasn’t played since his freshman year at the University of Maryland, Gaither didn’t seem unhappy about the move. The 6-foot-9, 340-pounder apparently wasn’t offended by being moved to a lower-profile position on the line.
Gaither drew criticism from Harbaugh during the NFL owners meetings for not attending the offseason conditioning program.
He reported the following week and appears to be in good shape.
Asked to predict whether he’ll be with the Ravens when the regular season, Gaither replied: “Right now, it’s 100 percent. I don’t know anything different.”
Oher is an athletic 6-foot-4, 310-pounder who was a consensus All-American at Ole Miss.
He excelled in five starts at left tackle last season in place of Gaither when he was sidelined with ankle, foot and neck injuries.
“I know he’ll do great," Gaither said. "He has a tremendous upside. He’s much more improved and has much more improvement to do. He’ll do a phenomenal job at left tackle."
Although Oher has been groomed to play left tackle ever since he emerged as a coveted blue-chip recruit in Memphis, Tenn., there will still be some adjustments to make.
“It’s kind of like telling a basketball player that’s right-handed that has to play left-handed,” Oher said. “It’s different. Did you see LeBron James shoot that left-handed shot? Something like that.
‘I’m trying to get back in the swing of things. You can’t go from position to position and it feels like home again as soon as you get back over there. It takes time to get used to things.”
The Ravens have a much longer-term investment in Oher, who’s signed to a five-year deal with a maximum value of $13.8 million that includes $7.8 million in guaranteed money.
Gaither is an unsigned restricted free agent who’s slated to play this season under a first-round tender of $2.396 million.
He can’t be traded until he signs his one-year tender.
Now, Gaither has to get acclimated to an unfamiliar position.
“It’s a task that I’ll have to overcome, and it’s something that I have to do,” said Gaither, adding that he learned of the change from offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. “Definitely, I’ve got an ample amount of time. Talking to Mike and talking to the coaches, it’s something we shouldn’t have a problem doing.
“Just being used to trying to learn a system for three years and flipping it all in your mind, it’s a little bit tough, but it’s a task I’m looking forward to. Things change and you make adjustments and I’m ready to do that. Take it full-steam ahead the best I can.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.