Notre Dame football: Elmer grows into roles

Al Lesar

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- If Steve Elmer can survive practice, games will be a piece of cake.

Going toe-to-toe with the likes of Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Sheldon Day on a daily basis can be the best recipe for a quick maturation for any young offensive lineman.

Baptism by fire, so to speak.

That’s just one of the perks that comes with being a freshman offensive lineman with the Notre Dame football team. Daily bouts with a couple guys who will be playing in “The League” next year are commonplace.

Doesn’t get any rougher — or better — than that.

Elmer, recruited out of Midland, Mich., as the guy who will eventually replace Zack Martin at left tackle, has played just about everywhere but left tackle (and center) this season. The 6-foot-6, 317-pound rookie has been one of the moveable parts along the Irish line.

Listed as a backup to Ronnie Stanley at right tackle, Elmer played left guard against Purdue, right tackle against Michigan State, and had a series at right guard against Arizona State.

Where will he play next week against Southern Cal? Who knows? Doesn’t matter. Elmer’s job is to make sure he’s ready, no matter the situation.

“We wanted to get a big body on (ASU standout defensive lineman Will) Sutton,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said of Elmer’s cameo. “(Christian) Lombard was doing a good job, but we wanted to give Sutton a different look.”

How’d Elmer approach the challenge of being tossed into the heat of battle without much time to prepare?

“Keep my head up and do my job,” Elmer said. “That’s all I’m thinking. That’s all I can afford to think.

“Head up, throw up my hands, and play ball.”

It’s rare for a true freshman to play at all on the offensive line at Notre Dame. It’s even more unusual for a youngster — even a guy who enrolled early — to be cross-trained and able to contribute at four different positions.

“It’s good to get to know both positions (guard and tackle),” Elmer said. “You know where everyone else is on the football field. Understanding that is really helpful in knowing the offense. Right and left, guard and tackle, it helps in picking up the assignments.

“There’s a lot that you have to absorb. The coaches do a great job explaining it, and easing you into it. The older guys have definitely been helpful with me getting the playbook down.”

This time last year, Elmer was a dominating force in Midland. Notre Dame’s first commit in this year’s freshman class still has had to grow in a hurry.

“We’re doing a lot more stuff now, in terms of the playbook, than we did in high school,” Elmer said. “Physically, there are no Stephon Tuitts in Midland (Mich.), so it’s a little bit different aspect, as well.

“(Enrolling early) was huge. People say it’s a big advantage, getting such a head start in the spring, but in my situation, even that’s understated. Football, it was definitely helpful. Academics, getting in here and getting your study habits down, it made the season so much easier.”

While the adjustment to the classroom was a success, Elmer just laughs about what his “welcome to college football” moment might have been.

“I can’t pin down one play specifically, but it was in the spring — probably a bull-rush from Tuitt. One of those situations,” Elmer said. “The speed of the practice was different; the speed of the guys; the size of the guys. I had been working out with them, but it’s a whole different animal when you get on the field.”

Talk about different animals,. Elmer said he did zone blocking in high school, but added that it was just a vague preparation for the schemes used by the Irish.

“(Pass blocking and run blocking) are both night and day from high school,” Elmer said. “I can’t say one or the other is more difficult. They’re both so different.

“In high school, you’re blocking the kids from the town over. Here, you’re blocking against Big Lou, or pass-throwin’ against Tuitt. It’s a lot, lot different.”

Elmer will be better for that day-to-day experience.

No matter what position he plays.

Steve Elmer