Even if Bryant McKinnie does not prove to be an upgrade over Michael Oher, his return to the Ravens and the left tackle position should at least strengthen the Ravens at left guard and right tackle, where Oher will likely play.
Make no mistake, though, Oher will still be in the crosshairs of formidable NFL pass rushers over at right tackle.
In a story I wrote in December about Oher’s future with the Ravens, I mentioned the theory that in today’s NFL, the left tackle position, while still the most important position on the offensive line, might not be as valuable as it was a decade or so ago when Jonathan Ogden was steering pass rushers clear of Ravens quarterbacks.
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A recent study by Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus examined the value of the offensive tackle position in 2012 and over the past five seasons. Palazzolo concluded that because the difference between the damage done against the left tackle compared to the right tackle isn’t as significant as we have been led to believe, “today’s passing NFL makes it a necessity to have two competent pass protectors on the edge.”
"People are more varied in the way that they rush the quarterback," Ogden told me in December. "Take Aldon Smith, for example, in San Francisco. He doesn't just play on the right end. The great players on defense aren't locked into one spot anymore. They will find matchup advantages, mismatches. They look for that [instead of] how Lawrence Taylor just used to line up against the left tackle."
Sure, Hall-of-Fame pass rushers Michael Strahan and Reggie White did much of their damage when attacking the right side of the offensive line. But in 2012, a number of the NFL’s most productive pass rushers often lined up as a left defensive end or outside linebacker, including Denver's Von Miller, Buffalo's Mario Williams, Miami's Cameron Wake and Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley.
Each of those guys is on Baltimore’s 2013 schedule, by the way.
Oher gave up 10 sacks during the regular season, second-most among regular left tackles and fourth-most among tackles overall.
But after the Ravens inserted McKinnie at left tackle before the start of the playoffs and moved Oher back to right tackle, where he played in 2009 and 2011, Oher allowed just one sack and six quarterback hurries in four games, according to Pro Football Focus. And he did it despite getting a regular dose of Miller, Smith, Robert Mathis of Indianapolis and Rob Ninkovich of New England.
"You can make a case that when it comes to pass protection, playing right tackle is harder than left tackle, depending on who you are going against and what the play-caller is calling," SiriusXM NFL Radio host Ross Tucker told me in December.
So while Oher’s new job may be easier, it certainly won’t be easy.