There's a 100% injury rate in the NFL and season-enders unfortunately happen all the time.
But for Ravens All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, his season-ending ankle injury suffered on Nov. 1 of last year was too much like flirting with catastrophe.
"I just really feel blessed to be back out with my brothers and be able to do what I love," Stanley said Tuesday in his first time talking with reporters since the injury.
"It was really close to being all taken away, so I'm really just thankful."
Stanley's ankle injury was described as "severe" by Head Coach John Harbaugh immediately after the game. According to reports, it was a fractured and dislocated, which occurred when Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt invertedly hit the back of his leg while it was planted.
"That injury, it's not an easy thing to come [back from], especially at my position, needing all the flexibility I can get," Stanley said. "Anything could have happened. Something couldn't have healed right."
The timing of the injury was also quite freakish. It came just two days after Stanley signed a five-year contract extension worth a reported $98.75 million. Had he not signed that extension, there's no telling where those talks would stand now. Stanley joked that he had a lot of time to reflect on that.
"I'm very, very appreciative," Stanley said. "I couldn't have asked for anything different, and I definitely felt blessed, and I'm just trying to make the most out of the opportunity that I have to be back."
After rehabbing throughout the summer, Stanley returned to the practice field on Aug. 9, the Ravens' 10th practice of training camp. He was eased into action, starting with individual drills, then eventually 11-on-11 work. The joint practices with the Carolina Panthers were a big step, then Stanley went through his first full practice Monday.
During one-on-one blocking drills Monday, Stanley stopped an outside speed rush by veteran Justin Houston. When Tyus Bowser tried to fake outside and rip underneath, Stanley stonewalled that as well.
Asked how close he feels to being back to where he was before the injury, Stanley said "pretty close." The goal was always for Stanley to be back by Week 1 and he's remained on track.
"I do believe I'll be a full-go by that point," Stanley said. "I'm just building up that flexibility – it's just taking some time – but another than that, I feel really good. My technique feels good. Everything still feels kind of slow vision-wise, so I still can see everything."
It's not just a matter of getting back on the field for the 2019 Pro Bowler and first-team All Pro. It's about getting back to being one of, if not the, best left tackle in the NFL.
"That's a big thing for me – is 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," Stanley said.
The Ravens signed Kevin Zeitler this offseason to take over at right guard. After trading right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., they signed veteran Alejandro Villanueva. They moved Bradley Bozeman to his natural center position and drafted guard Ben Cleveland in the third round.
But despite all of those upgrades, the Ravens need their premier left tackle back at his best to make it all work. Stanley will be especially important in helping the Ravens' new starting left guard, which has yet to be determined.
"I like what I see. I think we've got a good mix between young guys and vets," Stanley said. "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. And then, 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. I'm happy I can still be there to help guide whoever is playing there."
Stanley said that as soon as the injury happened last year, he knew his season was over. His second thought was "I'm not going to be there for my guys." He said that was the toughest part.
Stanley said he would watch Ravens (and Notre Dame) games, but that was it.
"It was really hard to just think about football after that and to even watch it," Stanley said. "It was hard to think about something that you know you could play and do at a high level and then now it's just, all of a sudden, you can't do anything. It was a lot of days just trying to get my mind off that."
Stanley took his mind off the injury with a lot of video games (Strictly Apex Legends for gamers out there) and time with his dogs. He relied on meditation, which is something he does before every game or whenever he wants to get something off his mind.
"I think meditation really helped me a lot," he said. "I definitely just formed a new appreciation for just being able to get another chance to play at a high level again."
Stanley spent a long time trying to take his mind off his injury. Now he's trying to finally put it behind him, and it appears he's close.
"I think this team is going to do some really great things," Stanley said. "I really have a great feeling [about] just all the different parts we have. [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."