Ronnie Stanley stood in front of his locker late Saturday night and downplayed the significance of a "soft tissue" injury that forced him out of practice. He insisted he felt "perfectly fine" and advised a small group of reporters that Ravens coach John Harbaugh was going to be the one who provided updates on his health.
When the Ravens made the Notre Dame offensive tackle the sixth overall pick in this year's draft, they cited his size and smarts, his talent and temperament, his polish and poise. As training camp heads into its third week, Stanley has been everything the Ravens expected. His failure to disclose any injury information, undoubtedly to the delight of Harbaugh, is the latest proof he's been a quick study.
"I'm not concerned," Stanley said following Saturday's practice. "Minor setback."
The Ravens certainly hope that's the case. Stanley is in line to become the first rookie to start at left tackle in the regular-season opener in franchise history. The Ravens don't have a proven and experienced insurance policy behind him, as their top backups at offensive tackle are rookie fourth-round pick Alex Lewis and James Hurst, an undrafted free agent who has struggled the past two years.
That Stanley will be asked to protect the blindside of Joe Flacco, a quarterback coming off left knee surgery, only adds to the responsibility the team is placing on the shoulders of the 6-foot-6, 320 pound tackle.
"That's a premier position in the National Football League and Ronnie's going to be – if he continues to progress – manning that spot as a rookie," Harbaugh said recently. "He's doing well with all positives so far. Really, no negatives other than just minor technique things he needs to get better at. I'm sure he'll be game-planned and schemed-up, and tested and all of those kinds of things. We'll find out if he's up to the challenge, but up to this point he has proven to be up to the challenge."
Stanley's injury happened in a one-on-one drill about midway through Saturday's open practice at M&T Bank Stadium. At this point, the team hasn't ruled him out for Thursday's preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. The team is looking forward to seeing how Stanley, who started 39 games in his career at Notre Dame, responds to his next test.
Coaches and teammates have watched him closely in practice to see how he bounces back to getting beat or making mistakes. They've observed his demeanor in meetings, making sure he's locked in on his assignments.
They've looked for any clues that protecting a quarterback's blindside as a rookie, a task that has overwhelmed several high draft picks in recent years, isn't too big for Stanley. They've yet to see any.
Offensive line coach Juan Castillo paid Stanley the ultimate compliment recently when he compared the rookie's demeanor to that of Marshal Yanda, a perennial Pro Bowl selection at left guard.
"Marshal sets a great example for everyone in that room," Castillo said. Stanley "is already a professional. The game is important to him; he studies. He is a smart kid, so he doesn't make the same mistakes twice. That is what is important, too. I think he loves the game, and he wants to do a good job for the Ravens."
In his ninth season with the Ravens, Yanda has seen young offensive linemen come and go. He knows better to make conclusions based on a player's performance in practice. He pointed out just how much pressure Stanley will be under, likely facing the other team's top pass rusher every game while dealing with all that being a rookie in the NFL entails.
But Yanda said that Stanley has "done everything the right way" so far.
"He has the right mindset. He is a hard worker and keeps his head down, and I love a rookie like that," Yanda said. "I love a rookie that stays quiet and does his job and just produces on the field. Just do what you do on the field. I don't need to hear anything else, but you doing your job and keeping your mouth quiet."
Stanley said his nature is not to draw attention to himself. He's a relatively quiet guy and he already has an understanding of a rookie's proper place in an NFL locker room. Stanley was forced to be front and center at the recent rookie talent show, when he sang R.Kelly's "Ignition Remix" while wearing a chicken suit. Beyond that, he's minded his own business at the Under Armour Performance Center.
"If I was a vet, that's how I would want the rookies to be as well," he said. "I'm a rookie and that's how I would want a rookie to be. It's more of a respect thing. You have to earn your way up. I haven't done anything out here compared to these guys. I'm looking good in practice, but I haven't done anything one the game field yet. I don't deserve the right to speak up like they do. I know my role and what I need to do."
Of course, Stanley will be judged on what he does on the field as the replacement for Eugene Monroe, who was released in June after three injury-plagued seasons with the team. The Ravens hadn't drafted as high as No. 6 since they selected running back Jamal Lewis with the fifth overall pick in 2000. They hadn't drafted an offensive lineman that high since taking Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick – and the franchise's first ever selection – in 1996.
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However, even Ogden started his NFL career as a guard as the Ravens had a solid left tackle in Tony Jones. That has never been a real option with Stanley.
"Obviously, it makes me feel great that the organization has put their trust in me and they really have faith in what I can do because they know the guy we're protecting and how valuable he is," Stanley said of Flacco. "I'm very happy. That just means I have to work and I can't betray their trust and put my best foot forward and show them what I can do."
In practice, Stanley has been more solid than spectacular. One of the best things you can say about an offensive lineman is that he hasn't been that noticeable, meaning he's avoiding getting beat cleanly, called for penalties or drawing the ire of coaches.
Stanley has gotten overpowered a few times in practices and lost his footing. He was flagged for a false start last week, but on the next play, he had a nice seal block that sprung Buck Allen for a long run. After the block, Castillo sprinted toward Stanley and patted the big tackle on the shoulder pads.
"You have to be able to think on your feet, react without thinking and apply technique really fast against powerful, great athletes coming at you," Harbaugh said. "I think smarter players are able to apply that coaching more quickly, and he's one of those types of guys."