The University of Louisville football team had two spots on the offensive line it had to find replacements for heading into this season.
But heading into the first game, U of L offensive line coach Dave Borbely had the idea of rotating Ryan Mack and Nacho Garcia at the right tackle position.
Now, eight games into the season and Mack has cemented himself as the starter. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Mack didn't start in the opener but has started in the seven games since the opener.
"Mack has solidified that right now," Borbely said, noting Garcia is out with a knee injury for an undetermined amount of time. "It was kind of split there in terms of productivity and to be quite honest I was just going to split the starts.
"But as the season has gone on, Mack has gained in maturity on the field and he's gained a real confidence level. He's playing at a fairly high level right now."<
U of L offensive coordinator Shawn Watson called Mack "really improved" and U of L coach Charlie Strong said he's "really stepped up."
"We always felt that (Ryan) Mack was a good player," Strong said. "When you think of that position with the bigger guys, it is all about confidence. It's just believing how good you are at the position.
"Mack was able to step up. He played really well against South Florida, but he's athletic enough to do that. He's a bigger guy who can move his feet."
Mack said his confidence is high and he's "really excited" that he was able to beat out Garcia for the starting spot. Before he was injured, Garcia was still seeing some time during games at right tackle.
"It's just hard work and I think that pays off big time," Mack said. "I try to come out here and work hard in everything we do all the time.
"I had a good player pushing me, which is Nacho. I had to compete and I had to get better and I think that's what happened for me."
Mack started last year's game against South Florida, played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman but said it wasn't until this season when he's adjusted to the speed of the game and knowing what he had to do on the field.
"I just had to let the game slow down for me," Mack said. "The game was moving so fast for me and now I have just settled down and am just going out there and playing ball. It's easier when it slows down."
With the left side of the line solid – Jamon Brown and John Miller – and also the center spot – Jake Smith – Strong said it was a key to get some consistency on the right side of the line for the Cardinals.
"I bring enthusiasm," he said. "I am the young buck on the O-LIne. But I try to get these guys fired up and try to be a leader out here."
Borbely said Mack is "a year ahead of schedule" as far as where he thought he would be and Mack said he was just pumped to be given the opportunity.
Watson called him a "standout" from the USF game.
"It does feel good," Mack said. "I just come out here everyday and compete with the boys and try to get better. We were both big, strong and athletic. Nacho is a great guy, I think I just competed hard and got better."