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Notre Dame Football: Can Ronnie Stanley Fill Zack Martin's Shoes in 2014?

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 28: Ronnie Stanley #78 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish blocks Charles Tapper #91 of the Oklahoma Sooners at Notre Dame Stadium on September 28, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Oklahoma defeated Notre Dame 35-21. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Keith ArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterApril 23, 2014

Put Ronnie Stanley in a room with Zack Martin and you might get confused. Stanley's the one that looks like the offensive lineman NFL teams covet.

But even though Notre Dame equipment manager Ryan Grooms special orders the 6'5.5", 318-pounder's size-16 cleats, the rising junior is charged with one of the biggest challenges of the offseason: Filling Zack Martin's shoes.

After four seasons of Martin earning the team's most valuable lineman award, Brian Kelly won't have his safety net in place. And while many expected an offseason of musical chairs as Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand mixed and matched line combinations, Stanley emerged as the team's starting left tackle, spending the spring getting comfortable playing a position that's been manned by Martin since Kelly first put eyes on him.

Zack Martin started every game of his Notre Dame career.
Zack Martin started every game of his Notre Dame career.David Zalubowski

Even for a player who spent his heralded high school career playing left tackle and most of his freshman season backing up Martin, it wasn't as easy as many expected. 

"The biggest adjustment was the stance," Stanley said. "I got more comfortable at right tackle when I started playing, but it wasn't too hard to get accustomed back to left tackle."

The ease of Stanley's transition takes away one of the many variables that exist along the offensive line. It also lets the other positions slot in easier, with Steve Elmer gaining comfort at left guard while redshirt freshman Mike McGlinchey takes over Stanley's right tackle position. 

That Stanley was able to make the transition speaks to his athleticism. It was also something Kelly noticed from the start when he recruited Stanley out of Las Vegas' Bishop Gorman High School. 

"He’s extremely athletic for a big fellow," Kelly said. "He uses his arm length to his advantage. We’d like to see him continue to work on being more physical, but he’s a really good athlete.

"He was a really good basketball player too on a very talented team in high school. He kind of has that kinesthetic awareness in that he can really get his body in good position and knows where the quarterback is."

Stanley is working on adding physicality to his game, an evolutionary necessity after spending last year learning and surviving on the right side. 

"I see myself being a lot more physical than I was last season already," Stanley said earlier this spring. "I've done a lot better this spring than I did last season, making good leaps."

Those leaps are far from done. Especially if the Irish want to get the same type of line play by a group that needs to replace key pieces like Martin and Chris Watt. But Stanley, Elmer and McGlinchey represent the next big things coming through South Bend. Literally. The trio adds elite height and bulk to a line that lacked it the past few years. 

The linchpin to that group will be Stanley. After an elbow injury during his freshman season earned him a fifth year of eligibility, Stanley could put the Irish in an enviable situation of having two players at left tackle over seven seasons, incredible continuity at the offensive line's most important position. 

Stanley sounds ready for the challenge. 

"I just assume they trust in me and my abilities to take over a role like that and fill someone's shoes that was a great player right before me," Stanley said.  

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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