CHARLOTTE – When the Panthers signed Michael Oher last month with the idea of making him their starting left tackle, Carolina welcomed a former first-round draft pick who is feeling as healthy as he has in a long time – and not just physically.
Oher started the first 91 games of his career before a nagging toe injury became too much to bear late last season, but now he's excited about a fresh start in more ways than one.
"Talking to the guys here, they've embraced me, and it definitely makes me buckle down," Oher said. "I've never liked disappointing anybody, so I'm looking at myself in the mirror. I'm working ten times harder than I ever have.
"I'm just focusing on getting better, on being the best football player that I can be and doing whatever it takes to get to that point. I'm still chasing greatness and want to be great. I don't want to let these guys down."
Oher struggled at times over the last two seasons, not meshing with a new offensive regime his last season with Baltimore in 2013 and not hitting his stride in his first and only season with Tennessee in 2014. A chronic toe injury that landed him on injured reserve after 11 games last season was part of the problem.
"It affected me quite a bit," Oher said. "It's something that I've been dealing with for years. I finally got it fixed and relieved some of the pain that I was dealing with because in the past during a game in my stance, I'd be thinking about that instead of the guy that I'm going against.
"Last season it just flared up worse than it ever has. I just needed to get it worked on. I got it done, and I feel a sense of relief already. It's definitely improving, and I'm working on doing everything one hundred percent."
Oher, in a press conference to kick off the Panthers' offseason workout program a week ago, couldn't have sounded more excited. He loves his experience so far with the organization and loves being reunited with John Matsko, his offensive line coach his first two seasons for a Ravens team that selected him No. 23 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.
"It feels good to be around a bunch of good-character guys and for a great organization, and I'm glad to be working with John Matsko," Oher said. "I'm a big fundamentals and technique guy, and these are the techniques from my first four years in the NFL. I had Matsko for two years, then after that his assistant taught the same thing – fundamentals and technique.
"That excites me, doing things right. Coach Matkso puts you in the right position. You're going to be prepared on a Sunday."
While Oher is optimistic about his new situation, the feeling is mutual.
"This is a good room for him," center Ryan Kalil said. "I think he's very much a guy who is about technique, and you can tell in the way he's played and just in briefly talking to him. I'm somebody who's a big proponent of that, and so that will be good because that's something that we harp on a lot.
"Michael played really well when Coach Matsko was coaching him in Baltimore, so it'll be good to have him here and get back to that playing style."
Kalil and guard Amini Silatolu are Carolina's only returning offensive linemen with 20 or more career starts, so Kalil said adding a veteran like Oher is a good thing.
Kalil was asked about the possibility of the Panthers adding more offensive linemen in the NFL Draft later this week. He answered the question with a selfish slant – but not the slant you might expect.
"I'm selfish in that I would love for us to draft as many offensive linemen as we possibly can," Kalil said. "That's obviously because of the greater odds of getting a better starting unit.
"This is a league that definitely wants young guys to come in and contribute right away. Some guys can do it, some guys can't. Time tells. I haven't paid a lot of attention to the guys that are out there this year, but I've got to believe whoever they bring in, if they draft a guy in the first round, I'd imagine they'd want him to come in and play right away."
However it comes together, the Panthers will put the offensive line that gives them the best chance to win on the field come September.
Oher intends to be a part of the plan.
"Like I said, I'm chasing greatness," Oher said. "I want to better myself in every way that I can, and I'm looking to have a great year.
"For me, when you care about guys, your teammates and the guys you're going to war with, you get a little bit emotional because you want to win."