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Michael Oher believes he can protect Cam Newton's blind side

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers didn't give Cam Newton a huge contract without doing their due diligence on Michael Oher before signing him to protect the quarterback's blind side.

They didn't add the former Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens tackle to the roster just because he was affordable -- $3.5 million in 2015 doesn't fall into the top 20 among starting left tackles.

They talked to coaches and players around the league about Oher's struggles the past two seasons. They concluded that Oher, with surgery on a toe injury that ended his 2014 season and a reunion with offensive line coach John Matsko, could be the player who allows Newton to excel.

"In this business, we have a lot of friends and people you know," Carolina coach Ron Rivera recently said. "You called them and asked them. You try to find the people who are going to be very straight and forward with you. We got a lot of positive reaction from some of the coaches we talked to … and the players."

The Panthers on Tuesday signed Newton to a five-year extension worth $103.8 million. They invested that kind of money believing they have a left tackle who can keep opposing defenders off a player who has been hit 587 times, 270 more than any other quarterback, since 2011.

Whether that belief is misguided or the Panthers are gambling that Oher creates another Hollywood movie remains to be seen.

Oher, according to Pro Football Focus, hasn't consistently graded positively since 2009, his rookie year in Baltimore. He hasn't played an entire season at left tackle since 2012, when he was a part of the Ravens' Super Bowl team. According to PFF, Oher had a positive grade in only six regular-season games that year and ranked 63rd out of 80 tackles. Last year, PFF ranked Oher 75th among 84 tackles.

Oher's high mark was 15th in 2009 with a grade of plus-17.1. His position coach that season was Matsko. Between that reunion and his newly pain-free toe, Oher is confident he can be that player again.

"I got the [same] feeling going into my rookie year of not wanting to let guys down and [being around] guys with a winning culture," Oher said. "For me, it's about getting back to the basics and fundamentals of doing everything right … looking myself in the mirror knowing what I have to do and getting better from within.”

Oher won't criticize the coaching at Tennessee, but you can read between the lines. He wasn't happy with the system.

He doesn't hide the fact that the system at Carolina agrees with him.

"Being a part of an offense that I've been used to in the past, guys that want to do everything right, who understand what it takes to get the job done," Oher said. "I feel if you want to get things done, you've got to hold yourself accountable.

"It's just about going back to the drawing board, whether it's just going back to the basics, really. Having the mentality you're not a veteran guy. You're starting over."

Oher is starting over with the tall task of protecting Newton. He understands there are skeptics who don't believe he can.

"I know that I have the abilities, and I'm going to put in the correct amount of work to get the job done," he said. "[It's] just being around more guys who are willing to do the same."