Whenever an athlete at any level of competition suffers a major injury that requires surgery for the first time, it is often their first time facing their own mortality in a sense. That is especially true for the elite at their respective sport playing professionally.
Up to that point, they’ve played through nicks, bruises, and various minor injuries and ailments. However, having your season abruptly ended, undergoing surgery and having your athletic future put in jeopardy — whether it’s momentarily or permanent — is a humbling and nerve-wracking experience.
Baltimore Ravens’ All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley had to face and overcome this reality when he suffered an ankle injury that ended his 2020 season after just eight games. It happened just days after he signed a five-year extension worth $98.75 million with $64.16 million fully guaranteed. The timing of his new deal couldn’t have come at a more opportune but still unfortunate time for the former Top-10 pick.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything different,” said Stanley. “[I] definitely felt blessed, and I’m just trying to make the most out of the opportunity that I have to be back.”
Stanley had to have surgery and undergo a grueling rehabilitation process that he is nearing the end of. The Ravens have been easing him back into action day by day and week by week since activating him off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list earlier this month.
He’s made good progress over the past few weeks and is confident that he’ll be “full-go” in time for the season opener. He is feeling good and is grateful for the opportunity to resume his career.
“I just really feel blessed to be back out with my brothers and be able to do what I love,” said Stanley. “It was really close to being all taken away, so I’m really just thankful.”
Coming back from such a severe injury can be very arduous for a player at his position. Offensive linemen in general but especially tackles need as much lower body flexibility and range of motion as possible to handle defensive ends and outside linebackers firing upfield.
“Anything could have happened. Something [could not] have healed right,” Stanley said. “Just being able to play the game again and play at a high level, I’m thankful for [that].”
Stanley spent a lot of time playing video games, playing with his dogs, and meditating to keep his mind off his injury and what he was missing out on last. It got to the point where the only football he would watch was Ravens games so he could cheer on and support his teammates from afar.
Now that he is “pretty close” to pre-injury form and regaining a natural feel for the game, he’s determined to prove he can still dominate at the highest level.
“I think that’s a big thing for me,” said Stanley. “Not just coming back to football but coming back at an elite level and playing to the level that I know I can play at.”
This offseason, General Manager Eric DeCosta and the Ravens made it their mission to revamp and fortify their offensive line after another disappointing loss in the divisional round of the playoffs.
They began with the signing of veteran salary cap casualty Kevin Zeitler to take over at right guard, followed by the drafting of Ben Cleveland in the third round to compete at left guard, and signed two-time Pro Bowler Alejandra Villanueva to replace Orlando Brown at right tackle. They also addressed the center position by sliding Bradley Bozeman over from left guard where had been the starter the last past two years.
Stanley likes what he has seen from the new projected starting unit while he was still working his way back, as well as during their limited time together since his return to practice.
“I think we’ve got a good mix between young guys and vets,” said Stanley. “The guys on the right side, I’m not worried about; those guys have been through it. They’re just going to find that chemistry together.
The battle for the left guard next to Stanley is still raging on and likely won’t be disclosed until pregame warmups prior to the season opener. No matter who it ends up being between Cleveland, who has yet to play in the preseason, Ben Powers who has starting experience, or Tyre Phillips who has some starts at guard under his belt as well, Stanley is confident that they’ll be able to build good chemistry all the same.
“Whoever I’m playing next to, I know it’s going to take some time, but we’re going to figure it out, and we’re going to work through it, and I’m always going to be there,” said Stanley. “I’m happy I can still be there to help guide whoever is playing there.”
He envisions a successful season for the Ravens this year and believes they are capable of achieving greatness. He approves of all the moves they made to acquire more talent and likes the way they’re coming together.
“I think this team is going to do some really great things. I really have a great feeling [about] just all the different parts we have,” said Stanley. “[We had] a lot of different free agents come in from a lot of different parts, and I feel like we all really mesh together really well. So, I think it’s going to be a really good year for us.”