Notre Dame football: Stanley has Irish going in right direction

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Right-side relevance is a new dimension.

It seemed way too easy. Cam McDaniel took the hand-off, headed toward the right edge and wasn't touched during his seven-yard jaunt to the end zone.

Perfect play. Crisp blocks. Nice vision.

Maybe the right side of Notre Dame's offensive line has finally come to life.

If there was a concern with the Irish offensive line last season, it was Mike Golic at right guard. He was the only unproven entity.

Though the exact numbers were a closely guarded secret within the football facility, it was common knowledge that the Notre Dame offense leaned heavily toward the left last year. With tackle Zack Martin and guard Chris Watt as the foundation, it didn't take Knute Rockne to figure out the Irish were going in that direction.

Martin and Watt are back. Ronnie Stanley has been added to the mix to try to add balance to the line. The 6-foot-6, 318-pound sophomore right tackle from Las Vegas won a spirited summer-camp battle with Conor Hanratty and has parlayed the opportunity into a four-game success story heading into Saturday's showdown with Oklahoma.

Christian Lombard was the movable piece in the competition. If Hanratty, a guard, got the nod, Lombard was to move to tackle. If Stanley won, he'd play guard.

Lombard, in his second year as a starter, has been integral in Stanley's early development.

"The big thing for a guy coming in is just confidence," Lombard said. "Ronnie's a confident guy naturally. That helps him out. He's a young guy. He's going to make mistakes, but he's learning from them."

The Irish offensive line has allowed just three sacks, but generating 114 rushing yards a game isn't good enough.

"We have to work on the things we're not good at," Stanley said, though he wasn't specific. "We're getting closer to where we should be."

That run by McDaniel against the Spartans was a positive step in the development process.

"That was a pretty well-blocked running play throughout the whole line, tight ends, wide receivers," Stanley said. "That was a great play.

"We'll watch those plays, but we don't want to dwell on the things that were good in the game. We know there's another game coming up and we have to re-focus. We do take a peek at it for a little bit, then we have to move on."

Stanley caught the attention of head coach Brian Kelly last week when, what appeared to be a painful hip injury, kept him on the sideline for just one play.

"I think what I was most proud of him on Saturday is he took a pretty big hit on the interception that was called a penalty, which caused a bit of a hip pointer, and really needed to be attended to," Kelly said. "(He) sat out one play and came right back in and was part of our last touchdown drive.

"I'm proud of the way he's battled in the first month of the season."

"It's the competitive spirit I have," Stanley said, describing what got him back in the game. "I want to be in the game, especially a close game like that. That game was too close for me to sit and watch when I know I could help my team.

"It's a lot of mental toughness and a lot of preparing. If I didn't prepare as well as I did, I wouldn't be able to focus at that moment of the game and know what I'm supposed to do with that going on with my body."

Kelly has been pleased with the way Stanley, who saw cameo action in two early games last season, has fared so far.

“He's been solid," the boss said. "He's a young kid, new experience, a rugged schedule in September against three Big Ten opponents, two really aggressive defenses in Michigan and Michigan State, and then seeing something with Purdue where there's a lot of movement, a lot of pressures, a lot of stunting.

"He hasn't gotten an easy baptism into playing offensive tackle in the first month. He could have used a couple of easy ones along the way. But it's been a great learning experience."

"I'm happy with the way I've played, but there's room for a lot of improvement," Stanley said. "There's a long way to go with a lot of my technique, strength, and just being a better football player overall.

"I'm not comfortable yet, but overall, with the way I've been playing, I'm pretty proud of myself.

"I feel more in place and more confident overall. Every game is different. I've gotta be on my toes every game. You can't get too comfortable."

The lessons have come regularly, but Stanley has refused to be overwhelmed by them.

"I learned the speed of the game and not over-thinking it," Stanley said. "These guys are normal guys like you and I. At the beginning, I'd over-think a little bit. Now, I come out more physical and confident in myself and what I'm going to do.

"The most important thing to learn is that we're just another part of the team. It doesn't matter how old we are, if we mess up ... It doesn't matter if I'm 19 years old and the guy next to me is 22. I'm not going to get any breaks just because I'm younger.

"That was probably the hardest part. You just need to step it up."

That step-up factor will be accelerated Saturday. Oklahoma represents the first defense with three down-linemen (3-3-5) Notre Dame has seen this season.

"It's not unique to me because we've been going against our defense for a long time and they have three down," Stanley said. "I'm pretty much used to three down."

The Irish are also likely to get a Sooner defense packed against the run, daring them to pass.

"(Eight in the box) is pretty tough, but there's no excuse," Stanley said. "We should get the job done."

Left or right.

Notre Dame right tackle Ronnie Stanley has helped bring balance to the Irish offensive line. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN