Stanley stepping into role

Offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley faces a learning curve as he assumes a new challenge in left tackle.

Ronnie Stanley wasn't always a left tackle. But he also wasn't always a football player.

But this spring, the junior finds himself on the left side, taking over for the departed Zack Martin. Martin, a projected first-round pick, started 52 consecutive games for the Irish at left tackle.

"I know it's a big responsibility filling in for a guy like Zack," Stanley said. "I know I have big shoes to fill, but I've always played to the best of my ability and I'm not going to change the way I play now."

Stanley said he learned from Martin's example over the last two years.

"I learned that there are no excuses," Stanley said. "He never moped around or anything. He always brought it every day, 100 percent."

Stanley is not alone moving to the left side. Sophomore Steve Elmer has moved from right guard to left guard, a switch that keeps Stanley and Elmer side-by-side.

"We have real good chemistry," Stanley said. "It's actually probably the best it's ever been. Steve Elmer's getting really good at playing guard. We've been doing a lot of good work together on combination blocks and just being on the same page."

Stanley started all 13 games last season at right tackle as part of an offensive line that allowed just eight sacks. As a freshman, Stanley played in the first two games of the season before having elbow surgery that preserved a year of eligibility.

Stanley said those first two games felt like a video game and he was shocked how many people were around him. While he may have gotten used to the speed of the game, Stanley will now have to adjust to protecting the blind side.

"He has that awareness, in a sense, that he can really get his body in good position and knows where the quarterback is," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "He just has a really good sense of the pocket and a really good feel in pass protection."

Kelly said Stanley is "extremely athletic for a big fellow" and his basketball background may have helped develop his athleticism.

As a high school senior, Stanley helped lead Bishop Gorman to a state title and season after averaging 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists as a junior. Stanley said basketball was his No. 1 sport until his sophomore year but saw a brighter future in football.

"Basketball will always be my first love but no football coach ever really influenced any of my decision about whether I wanted to play basketball or football," Stanley said. "It was all about me and my family's decision.

"I wanted to see how good I could get. That was one of my reasons for playing football."

Kelly and Irish hope Stanley's best is still in front of him by protecting who's behind him.

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