Freshman Focus: Steve Elmer

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Steve Elmer was the first commitment to the heralded ’13 recruiting class. He might also be one of the most important. A bookend tackle prospect that closed down his recruitment early and still ended up being viewed among the elite of his class, Elmer anchors an offensive line class that many believe is one of the top units in the country.

In Elmer, it looks as though the Irish have the heir apparent to Zack Martin. Already looking the part of an upperclassmen, the Michigan native and early enrollee wowed the coaching staff in his 15 spring workouts, and his 6-foot-5.5, 317-pound frame looks ready for competition already. Added to Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame has two young tackles that will likely play a key role in the Irish offensive line for years to come.

Let’s take a closer look at Elmer and what he’ll bring to the Fighting Irish this season.

RECRUITING PEDIGREE

If you’re underwhelmed by the offer list Elmer had, it’s a product of a very early commitment to Notre Dame, with Elmer shutting down his recruitment in September 2011, a full two years before he’ll suit up for the Irish.

Still, Elmer was seen as a Top 100 player by just about every service, with 247 having him in their Top 50 and Rivals in their top 60. In the middle of the recruiting cycle, it seemed some websites soured on Elmer, with reports coming out from combines that he looked less athletic than many expected during drill work. Those fears were allayed with an impressive US Army All-American week, and Elmer catapulted back up the rankings to the lofty status where he finished.

EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES

It’s never a good sign when freshman offensive linemen have an early opportunity to see the field. That said, during spring practice Kelly and the coaching staff felt like Elmer was physically ready to help the team if needed next season.

If needed is the key component here. A quick look at the tackle depth chart shouldn’t exactly give Notre Dame fans the warm and fuzzies. With Tate Nichols ending his career with a medical redshirt, the depth chart is now starters Martin and Lombard, with Stanley the only non-true freshman backing him up.

This is likely the last season where the Irish will truly struggle with depth issues, but the loss of guys like Jordan Prestwood and Nichols really hurt the depth chart. It’s no wonder that Kelly called Zack Martin a six-star recruit.

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

It looks like Elmer is the starting left tackle of the future. And it also looks like Notre Dame’s fortunes at the position are only on the rise. Adding Elmer and Mike McGlinchey to the current class is a start. Blue-chippers Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars, both seemingly elite prospects, shore up this deficiency quickly (’15 recruit Jerry Tillery seems like icing on a far-too-in-the-distance cake).

Still, pushing the development timetable of any lineman is a dangerous game. As Irish fans saw in 07-09, forcing players into the starting lineup early builds experience, but doesn’t necessarily make things better for the future. The list of blue-chip recruits at Notre Dame who saw the field early and plateaued is long.

That’s not to say that Elmer will suffer the same fate even if he does see the field this season. Many think that Elmer won’t have the opportunity to redshirt even if Martin and Christian Lombard stay healthy, as he’ll be too good to keep off the field. That’s a good problem to have for Kelly and Harry Hiestand, and hopefully one that doesn’t resurface in the near future.