Third-Year Leap?"That's what you'd like to do, traditionally, historically, is get that amount of time to develop strength."
-- Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand on player development entering junior year.
Hiestand was specifically referencing 2013 juniors Conor Hanratty, Nick Martin, and Matt Hegarty, three inexperienced competitors deemed ready for prime time roles last fall. But the reality applies to 2014 junior Ronnie Stanley, he of the 13 career start as well.
"He has freakish athleticism. Ronnie could play any position," noted two-time team captain Zack Martin last fall. "He was ahead of the game and I think he's shown that as (the 2013 season) has progressed."
Ahead of the game as a second-year starter last fall and cast into a larger role this season: veteran leader up front.
Stanley's 13 starts rank second to 5th-year senior Christian Lombard, a player moved to right guard last fall to allow Stanley a spot at right tackle, the theory that Notre Dame's five best linemen would be able to play simultaneously.
While it's assumed Stanley will remain at right tackle next fall, a spring foray to the left side and the spot vacated by NFL-bound Martin will likely be evaluated as well.
Stanley's final slotting will play a major role in the starting futures of Lombard (either guard or tackle position), sophomore Steven Elmer (guard or tackle as well) and redshirt-freshman Mike McGlinchey, who worked behind Martin at left tackle on the varsity last fall but did not play.
No longer the Next Man InFrom mid-November forward, 2013 redshirt-freshman Jarron Jones was evaluated -- at least from those outside the coaching staff -- as a backup, stop-gap competitor trying to hold down the fort in the absence of pre-season All-America Louis Nix, lost late to knee surgery.
Jones fared exceptionally well vs. Brigham Young, understandably less so vs. Stanford, and was part of a defensive front that limited Rutgers to just 80 rushing yards on 26 carries. (50 below their season average, though the Scarlet Knights were a bottom-20 rushing squad last fall.)
Entering spring 2014, Jones isn't merely a stop-gap player. He's the leading man. Its a reality that should not, however, change his outlook.
"Our coaches always tell us, no man is indispensable," Jones noted last fall.
With a new defensive scheme and at least a tweaked defensive front expected from defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, Jones and the rest of his relatively green line mates will be tasked with a crucial first impression this spring.
A defensive end until last season, size isn't a concern for the junior-to-be in his new life inside.
"I feel like I'm big enough, I weigh 310," said Jones during bowl preparations last December. "Just working out more and increasing my leg strength are points of emphasis. Little things like staying in my rush lane, beating double teams. What we work on daily is what I need to work on for (2014)."
Jones enters spring 2014 as he concluded 2013, as a starter.
Cementing hat status and leaving no doubt throughout next fall will be a key determiner in Notre Dame's final record for 2014.
Note: Click the links below for previous spring status reports: