Last Modified: Friday, August 15, 2014 11:08 AM
NEW ORLEANS — The previous time Michael Oher played in New Orleans, he was a first-string tackle for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
He returns less than two years later on Friday night for a preseason game as a member of his new team, the Tennessee Titans, trying to prove he remains worthy of a starting job in the NFL.
After starting every game through his first five NFL seasons — all in Baltimore — Oher, signed a four-year, $20 million free-agent deal with Tennessee that brought him back to his home state.
But the Titans also used their 11th overall draft choice on Taylor Lewan, an offensive tackle out of Michigan, raising the prospects for some competition for snaps on the right side of the line.
Oher has been dismissive of such speculation.
“I don’t know anything about any speculation or anything like that because I know what type of player I am,” Oher said. “I’m kind of tired of being disrespected by a lot of people who don’t know anything about the work I put in and how hard I work, and the love and passion I have for this game. So I’m not worried about anything. I go out there every day and give it my all.”
Titans quarterback Jake Locker seems pleased with the protection he’s gotten from Oher so far in training camp and in last week’s preseason opener.
“He’s playing well,” Locker said. “He brought experience and talent. (I’m) excited about what he’s doing for us on the right side of the line.”
The Saints also have questions on the offensive line. Namely, who’ll snap the ball to Drew Brees — that is, when the record-setting quarterback returns from a muscle strain in the left side of his abdomen.
Brees has sat out nearly all of the past two weeks of practice and isn’t likely to play tonight.
That’ll means competition at center between veteran Jonathan Goodwin and second-year pro Tim Lelito likely will play out simultaneously with Ryan Griffin’s quest to unseat Luke McCown for the job of Brees’ backup.
Saints head coach Sean Payton has indicated he could take his time deciding who’ll start at center in the regular season.
“You have two completely different players with Jonathan being the veteran and Tim the young player,” Payton said. “It’s early. I think the next couple of weeks will be real important, but both of them are doing a good job.”
Although Brees’ injury has been classified as minor by Payton, the star QB’s absence has forced the Saints to take a close look at what the contingency plan might be if Brees is sidelined during the regular season.
Griffin, a second-year pro out of Tulane, will take snaps on the same field where he played in college — not that he needs familiar surroundings to look comfortable.
He was the more impressive signal caller in the Saints’ preseason opener last week in St. Louis. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes while leading four scoring drives. Three of which ended in touchdowns, including his scoring strike to receiver Brandin Cooks, the Saints’ first-round draft choice.
Cooks’ emergence in the preseason has all but assured he’ll have a significant role in the passing game, along with tight end Jimmy Graham and Saints career leading receiver Marques Colston.
During the rest of the preseason, the stakes will be higher for receivers such as Nick Toon, Kenny Stills, Joe Morgan and Robert Meachem as they try to carve out roles.
The Titans, meanwhile, will be pleased to have a chance to make some player evaluations in the ideal conditions of the Superdome after playing in a torrential downpour against Green Bay last week.
“Handling a dry ball, we should be able to see a lot more of what we can do offensively,” Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
The setting also offers a sort of homecoming for Titans rookie QB Zach Mettenberger, who started the past two seasons at LSU and was a third-stringer on the 2011 LSU squad that lost the national title game to Alabama in New Orleans.
Indeed, the game is likely to showcase three quarterbacks who spent their college careers in Louisiana. McCown played for Louisiana Tech.