After watching Zack Martin quietly spend four years dominating along the Irish offensive line, junior Ronnie Stanley steps in at left tackle. After a season making 13 starts across from Martin on the right side, Stanley looks poised to continue the Irish’s excellence on the blind side, giving Brian Kelly the potential of playing just two standout starters over a seven-year span.
That may sound like wishful thinking, but that’s the ceiling many believe Stanley has. A gifted athlete with prototype tackle size, the Irish could have another NFL draft pick at one of the most important positions on the offensive line when Stanley’s career in South Bend is over.
Let’s take a closer look at the Las Vegas native.
6'5.5" 315 lbs.
Junior, No. 78
One of the top offensive line targets on the West Coast, Stanley picked Notre Dame over USC, UCLA, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon and a slew of other national programs. A four-star recruit and the best player in the state of Nevada, Stanley received rave reviews from Brian Kelly on Signing Day.
“He’s probably as gifted of an offensive linemen that we have seen in many years,” Kelly said. “A great basketball player but also when it comes to football, just has all the things necessary to be that left tackle.”
Having listened to Kelly describe recruits over the years, that’s high praise.
Freshman Season (2012): Played against Navy and Michigan in a reserve role. Injury ended his season and he preserved his eligibility with a medical redshirt.
Sophomore Season (2013): Made 13 starts at right tackle, a key part of an offensive line that only had Martin and Stanley start every game. The team allowed just eight sacks on the season, ranking second in the FBS.
We’ll know better about Stanley the pro prospect as he plays in 2014, but Kelly made it clear that he believes the sky is the limit for his new left tackle. He showed that when he shifted him to the left side in spring ball, a move that looked like the beginning of due diligence with multiple talented candidates for the job. But Kelly never wavered on Stanley’s fit at left tackle while the Irish juggled Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey across from him at his old spot.
The next step for Stanley as a second-year starter is to take over a football game. Likely matched up with an opponent’s top pass rusher, Stanley has big shoes to fill in replacing Martin, who was capable of erasing even the most talented players. That’s be the test for Stanley, but he’s as physically gifted as any lineman the Irish have had in some time.
A season at right tackle would help you believe that Stanley’s also got skills to maul people as a run blocker. But if the ground game is going to take off as many hope it will this fall, Stanley needs to show a physicality that he’s growing into.
It’s hard to discount all the good things Kelly and Hiestand continue to say about Stanley. And while he’s still young -- he’s got three seasons of eligibility left after playing only briefly in 2012 -- you’ve got to think the left tackle position is going to take a step backwards this season, with Martin being among the elite players in college football.
That said, Stanley gives the Irish something Martin couldn’t athletically. And while he’s not being asked to lead the unit the way Zack did, he’s got to turn 2014 into a season where he establishes himself as not just a leader, but a frontline player.
The Irish staff believe he’s already that. A solid season against some difficult matchups in 2013 was a great start. But Stanley has the opportunity to be great. He needs to take the biggest step there this season.
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Torii Hunter Jr.