Mealer might finally get his turn

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- He toiled in the background for years, his name listed on the depth chart but hardly ever in a game. For four seasons, Elliott Mealer waited his turn.

He sat behind players both older and younger than him. He moved around positions as a utility guy capable of playing both guard and tackle.

But he rarely saw the field, seeing a few snaps here and there the past two seasons, along with special teams work. And this spring looked like it would be more of the same despite players shifting positions on the offensive line.

Starting left guard Michael Schofield moved to right tackle. His backup, Ricky Barnum, went to center. So that guard position opened a competition between Mealer and redshirt freshman Chris Bryant.

It is a competition Mealer appears to be leading as Barnum is solidifying his work at center and Bryant has been practicing at both right and left guard.

“Right now I like his work ethic and his demeanor,” Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said. “I think he’s got a bit more confidence than he had last year at this time.”

It has been a long way for Mealer, whose story is well known. When he was in high school, he was in a car accident that killed his girlfriend and father and seriously injured his brother, Brock, and leaving him in a wheelchair.

When Elliott came to Michigan, he redshirted. At the same time, former coach Rich Rodriguez and former strength coach Mike Barwis took an interest in Brock with a goal of getting him to walk again.

And before the first game of the 2010 season, Brock and Elliott Mealer walked side-by-side out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel to a standing ovation. A picture of the moment hangs in the Michigan Stadium press box.

Throughout all of that, though, Elliott played sparingly. Now, it appears like that is going to change.

“He’s competing,” Barnum said. “Bringing energy. He’s worked a lot, like the rest of the offensive line. He just brings a lot to the table.”

Barnum said Mealer could have started before, but was behind Mark Huyge at right tackle last season. This season, however, he has a chance to start.

That’s a good position to be in for a guy who has been bounced around as a utility lineman his entire career.

Maybe it’s finally Mealer’s turn.