Starting at Swingman

Freshman offensive lineman Steve Elmer made his first career start last week vs. Air Force. His in-game switch from guard to tackle is the more pertinent story, both for 2013 and future seasons.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly noted of four-star prospect Steve Elmer last spring, "he's a natural left tackle."

As a true freshman this fall, Elmer has been nearly everything but, subbing for his veteran teammates at left guard, right tackle, and right guard in competitive situations, the latter home of his first of what should be many starts at the college level.

"He knows we have a ton of confidence in him," said left tackle Zack Martin, one of two line mates not to cede playing time to Elmer this season. "His athleticism allows him to play multiple positions. He's taken on that role wherever we need him, that he'll step up and do it for us.

"He's getting better. He got about 40 percent of the snaps (at right guard) against 'SC. He got all snaps at guard and tackle (last Saturday at Air Force)," Martin continued. "The more he sees stuff is the big thing Physically he can do pretty much everything. The more he sees on the field, the better he'll get."

Elmer has seen more than the quartet of fellow offensive line freshmen that joined him in South Bend for the last recruiting cycle. His early assimilation to the University as a January 2013 enrollee and the extra months of conditioning and spring practice that followed have proven crucial.

"Every day I feel like (spring) was a better decision," Elmer said. "It's helped so much, it was huge. Getting in the weight room with (strength & conditioning) coach (Paul) Longo was really beneficial, getting the lay of the land and how a college strength & conditioning program works."

He also saw how multiple positions worked. Unlike most first-year blockers, it was important to him to understand not only his role, but of those around him.

"I think it's important to know where everyone is going because it's not one guy doing his job or even two guys. It's five guys working together and off one another," said Elmer. "If you don't know where everyone else is going, you don't know how to handle all situations. I had a feeling I would be moving around a little bit early on so I thought it would be beneficial to be familiar with the assignments for everybody, and then also just for awareness. You need to know what people are doing.

"I played a little bit of guard in (August) camp, got my feet wet here and there prior," he said. "I bounced around a lot so it wasn't a huge transition. It's definitely different. You're one spot over. You know what you're doing (at tackle) so you should know what you're doing at guard."

Domino Effect

Eight of Elmer's fellow freshmen have joined him as regular contributors as rookies, none of whom though serve on the offensive line.

The eligibility of guard/tackle Hunter Bivin and tackle Mike McGlinchey, both active varsity backups during game week preparations, will be preserved largely because of Elmer's versatility. When 5th-year senior Chris Watt was lost in-game last Saturday to injury, junior guard Connor Hanratty slid into Watt's spot. When sophomore right tackle Ronnie Stanley was felled a quarter later, junior Matt Hegarty moved to Elmer's right guard spot with Elmer shifting to right tackle. The result was Bivin's eligibility remained intact.

Had Zack Martin been forced from the lineup, Elmer would have switched to the left side with Zack's younger brother Nick jumping to right tackle, Hegarty to center, and walk-on Kevin Carr debuting at right guard (Carr played during the contest though in standard relief duty). The hypothetical would have kept McGlinchey eligible through 2017 rather than burning a year in mop-up duty.

"The great thing about getting guys in is you that you see guys who work really hard during the week come in and get paid off a little bit," said Martin. "They were preparing the right way but it also made them realize that anytime they could go in the game. They'll have a great week and be ready for Navy at Saturday."

All because Elmer can play anywhere but center. Even fullback.

"They gave me one drive as a fullback in my last game," said Elmer of his eighth-grade football season in Midland, Michigan. "It was a 60-yard drive. They gave me the whole drive. It was awesome."

Elmer the fullback is unlikely to materialize in South Bend. Elmer the guard and tackle -- on either side of scrimmage -- will be a weekly development through the conclusion of 2013. Preparing to start at one of the positions is one thing, shifting to and fro while the bullets are flying another entirely.

"It's definitely not the easiest thing," said Elmer of starting vs. subbing mid-drive. "You have to be ready to answer the bell. It's better knowing you're going to be in there for sure (as a starter). Coming in cold off the bench, purely from being warmed up, it's not the easiest. (As a starter), you're the guy and you have to get it done right away."

Relative to most freshman, Elmer is getting it done with regularity. When he doesn't, he hears about it from his position coach, Harry Hiestand. Immediately.

"I usually talk to coach Hiestand when it comes to the offensive line and he'll address them on the bench," said Kelly of any discord with the unit. "It's much easier, when you have a group of five guys, unless it's the center and the quarterback, I'll get involved in that because sometimes it's a matter of communication.  But when there's a false start with a particular lineman, coach Hiestand usually handles that in his own manner. He's got a way of correcting that quickly.

"His manner is kind of-- it's an interesting one in that sometimes it doesn't require much conversation at all.  It's just a look.  And that look really works quite well with those guys.  He's got such a great relationship with them."

From Hiestand to Elmer's veteran teammates, to his own conscientious approach to his craft, Elmer couldn't ask for a better assimilation.

"They remind me to slow down and block what you see," said Elmer of the experienced starters surrounding him. "Sometimes I have the tendency to jump out of there and fly around. Just stay patient and stay in position.

"We're a pretty close-knit group. It takes a village..."

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