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Michael Oher blindsiding critics that said Panthers erred in signing him

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil never gets tired of kidding Michael Oher about how the left tackle was portrayed in the 2009 Hollywood movie "The Blind Side."

"Never," he said. "You should write about the movie just to tick him off."

The real joke may be on critics blindsided by the way Oher has played since the Panthers signed him in free agency to protect quarterback Cam Newton.

Many called it a mistake, criticizing Carolina for not taking a left tackle in the NFL draft. They predicted Newton would be running for his life instead of making an MVP run.

This isn't to suggest Oher has elevated his play to that of one of the top tackles in the league. Pro Football Focus gave him the worst grade (minus-2.3) on the Carolina offense in Sunday's 37-29 victory over Green Bay.

But in terms of protecting Newton -- which is what he was brought here to do -- Oher didn't allow a pressure or a sack and got a positive grade of 2.0 for pass protection. He helped Newton play well enough to be named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Coach Ron Rivera said Oher played his best game of the season against Green Bay. He said the 6-foot-4, 315-pound tackle has brought stability to the position that has been in flux since Jordan Gross retired after the 2013 season.

This brings us to Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans, who released Oher in February a year after signing him to a four-year, $20 million deal.

There are those that would suggest Oher has something to prove to the Titans.

That's not the case.

Oher's goal is the same as it has been since the day the Baltimore Ravens drafted him in the first round of the 2009 draft out of Mississippi.

"I come to work every day, try to become better for my team," Oher said.

This may sound cliché, but it's sincere. Oher isn't celebrating Carolina's 8-0 start, something he's never experienced on any level in football. He'll save that for after the season.

"During the season it's all about work, getting better every day," he said. "After a win, I probably have fun for probably an hour, and that's it. It's back to work."

Oher is considered the hardest worker among the Carolina linemen. His teammates see that. It inspires them to work harder.

But what Oher likes is that his teammates work hard. While he didn't want to discuss this week why Tennessee wasn't a good fit, he did during the offseason.

"I like things to be run the right way," Oher said. "Doing things right. Just being on top of things."

That the toe injury that forced the Titans to place Oher on injured reserve late last season is completely healed has been a factor in Oher's improved play.

So has being re-united with former Baltimore line coach John Matsko. That's a big reason Oher came to Carolina. Matsko puts in more time than his players. He teaches technique that makes even a four-time Pro Bowler like Kalil better.

Oher appreciates that. He also trusts Matsko and Matsko trusts him.

"He's got your back," Matsko said. "He's the kind of guy he refuses to bring anybody down. He won't let anybody down."

That may sound like a line from the movie, but it's true.

"That's the way he's built," Matsko said. "He's an extremely loyal man. He makes everybody better. He makes you a better coach. He makes you a better player."

Oher has made the Panthers better, something left tackle Byron Bell couldn't consistently do last season. Bell is back at his more natural position of right tackle, ironically for the Titans.

"There's a toughness about him that permeates throughout the rest of the guys," Rivera said of Oher. "The hard thing about playing the position he plays, if you give up one sack everybody thinks you had a bad day. Sometimes it's not fair. Sometimes it's not his fault. Sometimes it is.

"When you watch him do some of the things he did last week and you hear the coaches talk about all the positive things, but then turn around and say he can play better, that's very encouraging."

Oher's teammates still tease him about the movie from time to time. Oher takes it in stride.

His goal is to help the Panthers become good enough that perhaps a movie one day will be made about them.