Earlier this week I was all set to do this post as our scouting report for Ole Miss left tackle Michael Oher. He had declared for the draft as a junior and was a guy who could have ended up available around the 49ers pick. In great timing, over Christmas I received and recently finished The Blind Side, Michael Lewis's highly entertaining and informative book about the rise of Michael Oher from homeless teenager to All-SEC offensive lineman. Then Oher decided to return to Ole Miss for his senior year. Nothing wrong with that, but it takes this from a scouting report to simply a book review. Nonetheless, I HIGHLY recommend reading this book at your earliest convenience. Michael Lewis wrote what might be considered in some circles the infamous Moneyball and also Liar's Poker.
The book uses the rise of Michael Oher to chronicle many of the socio-economic issues within inner cities, as well as some truly fascinating developments in the game of football. I won't go into the socio-economic stuff because I'd prefer this post to deal more with the lighter stuff that football fan's can wrap their teeth around (although the racial issues are truly fascinating in the book). In this case, Lewis discusses the development of several areas of football that in the end made the left tackle become more financially valued than any other member of the offensive line. This would have likely been considered heresy before the 1980s, but times changed. It was a veritable perfect storm of events that led to this occurrence.
In the early 1980s Bill Walsh was becoming the face of the West Coast offense in San Francisco and Lewis goes into great detail about Walsh's time before San Francisco that allowed him to develop the system, particularly in Cincinnati under Paul Brown. At the same time Walsh was perfecting the system with the 49ers, Lawrence Taylor entered the league to absolutely terrorize quarterbacks and offensive linemen. There are some great quotations from linemen at the time talking about being unable to sleep the week they had to face Taylor on the QB's blind side. As he wreaked havoc, Bill Walsh realized the need to put his best lineman on the quarterback's blind side to protect him. Most quarterbacks were right handed so they had less time to get rid of the ball since they had to account for Taylor. Lewis interviewed a variety of former players including a former fan favorite in San Francisco, Steve Wallace.
So as time progressed, left tackles have become not only the highest paid offensive linemen, but among the higher paid players in the league. It sounds like the 49ers will be moving Joe Staley to left tackle next season and I'm excited about that considering his athleticism and his solid rookie season. Michael Oher (pronounced Oar) appears to be the next great physical specimen when he enters the league after his senior season. The book discusses in depth how much of a freak of nature Oher is and how much of a sponge he is when he comes to learning. He was clasified as learning disabled but has managed to put together strong academics, in large part thanks to the help of the Memphis family that adopted him. A big issue in the book was learning the playbook at Ole Miss because he is a visual learner as opposed to just being told the Xs and Os. It will be interesting to see the transition he makes at the NFL level and how he handles the potentially overwhelming NFL playbook.
Anyways, I highly recommend checking out The Blind Side, particularly if you want to learn more about the development of football in the 70s and 80s and particularly if you are a Michael Lewis fan.