BALTIMORE -- Ronnie Stanley sits down at his table at Azumi where he enjoys a picturesque view of the Inner Harbor as well as his home field, M&T Bank Stadium.
This chic Japanese restaurant gives a similar comfort vibe for the Baltimore Ravens left tackle. Stanley is never handed a menu because the chef there knows what Stanley likes.
In a matter of minutes, sitting in front of Stanley are eight pieces of Chutoro and Otoro, the sought-after cut of medium fatty tuna sushi. Then arrives the 14-ounce Miyazaki steak, the Holy Grail of beef that costs a whopping $364 and is served with fire burning around the dish.
It's established quickly Stanley is different than the stereotypical big man in the NFL. The bodyguard of Lamar Jackson's blind side isn't chomping down on fast-food burgers, potato chips and donuts. The unofficial foodie king of the Ravens, Stanley seeks out places that are unique to Baltimore and pride themselves on being creative and visionary.
He loves watching food shows like "Chef's Table" and "Ugly Delicious." He gets excited to tour the Capital Grille's dry aging room for steaks. He aspires to learn how to cook when his playing days are over.
In giving a food tour of Baltimore, Stanley explains he found Azumi to fill his craving after vacationing in Japan last year. When he goes to Tagliata, he points out how the Rigatoni alla Vodka is trying to be like the one at Carbone (the A-lister Italian restaurant in New York City). And when Stanley goes to Clavel (he has the owner's number in his contacts if he needs a table), he suggests the Carnitas con salsa verde and Barbacoa de Borrego because of their authenticity.
"Most people just think, ‘Oh, they’re big and they eat whatever they want,’" Stanley said when asked about the perception of offensive linemen. "We’re blocking the most athletic people on the other team. You can’t be sloppy with your eating choices."
Stanley, 25, is one of the rising young offensive linemen in the NFL. He is also among the most athletic. Still, he isn't in the habit of counting calories. He has a feel for what his 6-foot-6, 315-pound body can handle.
On one afternoon in late July, Stanley splurged by sampling sushi, steak, rigatoni, chicken parmigiana, prosciutto (along with mozzarella) and a couple of tacos. When the time came for his favorite dessert -- Tres Leches cake -- he could take only one bite.
While Stanley isn't close to weighing 400 pounds, he said, "I could easily be, if I ate as much as I could."
Aiming to be the best
When coach John Harbaugh speaks with Stanley, a particular subject pops up.
"He wants to be the best left tackle in football," Harbaugh said. "That’s his goal. He tells me that quite often. He’s worked for that. I would say I expect that, too."
The bar is high for Stanley, and for good reason. He was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 draft, and the top five selections (Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey) have all made the Pro Bowl. Even the pick after Stanley (DeForest Buckner) has reached the Pro Bowl.
Stanley was a second alternate last season, and he has a chance to surpass Taylor Lewan as the AFC's premier left tackle if he continues his rate of improvement.
"It’s not something you build in one year," Stanley said of being the best. "That’s what I’m building toward. That’s my plan. I definitely think I can still do it."
Since 2006, Stanley is the ninth highest-graded player among those who've logged at least 2,000 snaps at left tackle, according to Pro Football Focus. Last season, he was the second-best pass-blocker in all of football, allowing 17 pressures on 577 pass-blocking snaps.
"He has a very high ceiling," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "He came into this league as a very young player, and I think he has had three years under his belt now. It’s time for Ronnie to take another step as a player, and he’s going to have every opportunity to do it."
Stanley's ascension has been quiet, and some of that is due to his soft-spoken nature. He feels that affects his image with fans, but he thinks defensive ends know he's completely different from his tone. If they don't realize that, Stanley makes sure they understand.
"I always try to give defensive ends a little s---," Stanley said. "I tell them they have the easiest job. They get one sack a game for the whole season and they look like they’re beasts."
Feeling at home
Stanley can't remember ever visiting Baltimore before being drafted by the Ravens. He has made this city feel like home, especially through his efforts off the field.
As a rookie, Stanley contacted the Casey Cares Foundation because he lost two grandparents to cancer, and he wanted to give back to families in the area whose lives also have been touched by the disease. He met Noah, a then 7-year-old battling leukemia, and he took him on a Halloween shopping spree that included costume and candy.
Stanley kept in touch with Noah and his family, giving them tickets to attend games over the years. When Noah was finished with his treatments and got to ring the bell at the hospital, Stanley was invited to share in the celebration.
"It was real emotional," Stanley said. "It was such a cool moment."
Stanley's other bond to the city is with its pets. Before his first training camp, he went to the front desk of an animal shelter there and told the staff that he wanted a dog who had been there for a long time.
He left with Lola, a 6-year-old terrier mix with a belly so stretched out it nearly touched the floor.
"I sought after one of their older dogs that probably wasn't going to get adopted," Stanley said. "Just like I got drafted by the Ravens, I wanted Lola to have that same feeling of being wanted when I adopted her."
A year later, Stanley adopted Rico, a blonde brindle pitbull.
The Ravens will soon have to determine how much they value Stanley.
He is entering the final year of his rookie deal and will make $3.2 million this season. Baltimore picked up his fifth-year option, meaning he can earn $12.866 million in 2020.
Beyond that, nothing is certain for Stanley and the Ravens.
"I kind of play it year by year," Stanley said. "I love playing here. I love the team. That’s not an issue with me. I try not to worry about that too much. I focus on being the best I can be and everything else will fall into place."
Stanley has brought much-needed stability to a vital spot. After Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden retired in 2007, Baltimore went through seven starting left tackles in eight years: Jared Gaither, Adam Terry, Michael Oher, Bryant McKinnie, Eugene Monroe, James Hurst and Kelechi Osemele. That revolving door ended when the Ravens made Stanley the fourth highest drafted player in franchise history (only Ogden, Peter Boulware and Jamal Lewis were selected earlier).
With Eric DeCosta taking over for Ozzie Newsome as general manager, the Ravens have put more of an emphasis on signing their talented younger players before their contracts expire. But Stanley indicated the sides aren't talking much about a new deal. To become one of the five highest-paid left tackles -- which would be the going rate -- Baltimore would need to give Stanley a contract that averaged over $14 million per season.
"He’s playing extremely well and I loved the way he finished the season," DeCosta said in February. "We’re excited about him moving forward. He’s a great young man. He’s motivated. He’s a good player at a really, really important position."
History says Stanley has a good shot at staying. Before Stanley, the Ravens drafted six players in the top 10: Ogden, Boulware, Duane Starks, Chris McAlister, Jamal Lewis and Terrell Suggs. Only Starks wasn't re-signed after his rookie contract ended.
"He likes that left tackle position, and you have to have a great left tackle in this league to be successful," offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said. "He’s taken the steps each practice, each day, to master and become a good left tackle in this league. The good Lord has shined a lot of good talent on him, and if he’ll continue to develop that talent, who knows? The sky is the limit for his ability and growth."