Mar 2, 2011, 2:28 AM EDT
Still a few weeks away from Spring Practice kicking off, we’re starting a new series that’ll look at a dozen players that hold the key to Notre Dame making a BCS run next season. We’ll dedicate 100 words exactly to what each player needs to do to help the Irish take the leap. Send any thoughts or comments my way.
There’s no player on the Irish roster that’s done more for Notre Dame off the field than Braxston Cave. The lone contributor on the Irish roster that grew up under the shadow of the Golden Dome, Cave’s house has long been a sanctuary for out-of-town teammates and potential recruits looking for a home-cooked meal or a place to stay.
Yet Cave’s path to contributing on the field wasn’t quite as clear cut. The four-star recruit that wowed people with his brute strength struggled to get onto the field and it was only after concussions kept senior Dan Wenger off of it that Cave seized the starting center job after apprenticing for nearly two seasons.
Cave opened the 2010 season at center and for the most part played admirably. That said, Cave — as you’d expect from a first-year starter struggling to learn a new system — certainly didn’t grade out flawlessly.
“He’s gotten the message that he has to be more consistent,” head coach Brian Kelly said of Cave early in the year. “Braxston is an unbelievable kid and he’s going to give you everything he has. The problem is we don’t like some of his choices relative to who he blocks. He chooses to block the wrong people sometimes. Not a good thing, especially when there’s somebody on the nose.”
Cave’s work improved as the season wore on, and the Irish relying on their running game certainly played to Braxston’s strengths as a physical player in the trenches. With Wenger still hoping to return for a NCAA-approved sixth season, the center position is hardly Cave’s by default, and the Irish will need improved play out of Cave (or whoever wins the job for next season) if the offense is going to improve its consistency both running and throwing.
100 word preview for Braxston Cave in 2011:
If the Irish are going to play elite football, they’ll need a top-flight center anchoring their offensive line. Cave wasn’t that player last year, but there is reason to hope he can become a leader on this line. Heading into 2010, the Irish worried about two rookie tackles, and the struggles on the interior surprised people. With Stewart gone, it’s up to Trevor Robinson and Cave to fulfill the promise they showed when they decided to don the Blue and Gold. If they don’t, expect to hear from guys like Chris Watt, Andrew Nuss, Mike Golic and freshman Christian Lombard.
Importance in 2011:
If the Irish want to run the type of offense Brian Kelly knows he needs, a center that’s capable of making good decisions in split seconds needs to emerge. If Ed Warinner can turn Cave into that guy, it means only good things for the Irish. Cave’s got all the intangibles needed to succeed. Now he’s just got to put the pieces together.