At this time last year, Steve Elmer was on track to start at guard for the Irish—staying on the interior of the offensive line when many had projected him to be a tackle. Yet entering fall camp, Brian Kelly and Harry Hiestand pushed Elmer outside to right tackle, hoping the promising youngster could make the transition outside just as smoothly as he had done everything else in his collegiate career.
The move didn’t stick, and Elmer’s learning curve contributed to a slow start up front for the Irish. But after sliding back inside to guard, Elmer put together a solid season, and now enters his junior year having played in 23 games and started 17, incredible experience for a true third-year player.
While he’s not likely to be the left tackle many expected when he arrived in South Bend, he’s on pace to be an excellent offensive lineman—capable of being dominant from day one against Texas.
Let’s take a closer look at Steve Elmer.
6’5.5″, 315 lbs.
Junior, No. 79, RG
A blue-chipper, Elmer’s only sin in the recruiting world was a super early commitment to Notre Dame, and an unwillingness to waver on that pledge. Elmer started as an elite, 5-star-level prospect. Some challenges on the summer circuit dropped that ranking, but after dominating at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, his stock moved back up.
Elmer was chased by Michigan to no avail and likely would’ve fielded offers from just about any program in the country if he wanted them. He received the Anthony Munoz Award as the top prep lineman in the country.
Freshman Season (2013): Played in 10 games, starting four after Christian Lombard’s season ended with back surgery. Shared time with Conor Hanratty at guard.
Sophomore Season (2014): Started all 13 games for the Irish, one of just eight players on the team to start every game. Played the first three games of the season at right tackle.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
I wrote this not knowing that Notre Dame’s staff would reshuffle their offensive line, pushing Elmer into the right tackle job he never fully got comfortable playing.
While I don’t think he played up to the level we maybe expected, another year at guard will give the cerebral Elmer time to hone his craft.
There are few linemen I like more than Elmer, a solid kid who is showing quite a bit of maturity by sliding inside to guard and taking one for the team. In the end, if he’s as good as we all tend to think, it could end up helping. A Swiss-Army lineman could do similar things in the eyes of NFL scouts as Zack Martin — and Elmer doesn’t have “size” issues that plagued Martin.
Putting him in Martin’s class is a bit premature. At least until we see him dominate like Martin did from the moment he hit the field. But Elmer didn’t get the benefit of redshirting like Martin did, so he has some work to do before he wins multiple lineman of the year awards at Notre Dame.
Ultimately, Elmer, Stanley and McGlinchey have the opportunity to do something very special and form a nucleus that will elevate the Irish offensive line to heights we haven’t seen.
(And no, I’m not talking about the trio being tall.)
There’s an NFL lineman in Elmer, and these next two seasons will determine whether he’s an early-round pick or a guy that goes on day three. The “stigma” that comes with being a guard is long gone in NFL circles, so the worry that getting shoved inside ruins Elmer’s value at the next level went up in smoke when guards started becoming Top 10 picks and Zack Martin played a near-perfect college career at left tackle and then became an All-Pro rookie at guard.
Comparing Elmer to Martin helps nobody. Elmer needs to continue to improve his feet and his technique, and to tighten up his misses. When the rising junior looked bad last season he looked really bad—some blown blocks turning into olé! situations.
But Elmer has everything you want in a lineman. A great frame, good length, size and power. Not to mention a good head on his shoulders. The future is bright.
I fully expect Elmer to be a critical part in the best Irish offensive line since the Holtz era. With another season at guard and growing chemistry between Nick Martin and Mike McGlinchey, Elmer’s entering his third season as a major contributor, and it’s time for dominance to take hold.
Being a piece of the puzzle and one of the dominant performers are two very different things. As an upperclassman and a multi-year starter, Elmer needs to look at himself as one of the three elite performers up front, unwilling to let Martin and future first-rounder Ronnie Stanley carry the weight.
This will be Elmer’s offensive line in 2016. But laying that groundwork begins now.
THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL