Jan 16, 2013, 3:24 PM EDT
Braxston Cave received a big invitation, accepting the opportunity to play at the Senior Bowl, the premiere All-Star competition for graduating college football players heading to the NFL. The local Granger product will head to Mobile, Alabama, taking part in practices with representatives from every NFL team in attendance, before playing in the game on January 26.
The invitation is validation after a great career for the Irish, starting for three seasons at center under Brian Kelly after being recruited to Notre Dame by Charlie Weis. Always a physically strong player, Cave made great strides with his athleticism, a trait that’ll be fully tested in Mobile.
Cave’s development followed a path we’ll likely see more and more with the Irish as Kelly and his staff build depth along the offensive front. After seeing time as a true freshman snapper, an injury saved a year of eligibility. From there, Cave battled to fight his way into the lineup after a year spent mostly on special teams, an opportunity that came along with an injury to fifth-year senior Dan Wenger.
Once Cave was in the starting lineup, only injury could hold him out. Yet the time missed by Cave allowed the Irish to develop Mike Golic, who filled in admirably at center and shifted to right guard for his fifth season.
Cave’s departure will highlight one of the spring’s biggest holes on the Irish roster. And with injuries and a lack of depth clouding the situation along the offensive line, identifying who will fill Cave’s sizable shoes is one of the key position battles worth following.
Notre Dame has developed some decent depth on the interior of their front line, with guys like Nick Martin, Conor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty, Bruce Heggie and Mark Harrell all waiting in the wings. Yet none of those guys have played significant minutes (to be kind), and finding a center that can work into a line that’ll also need to find a right guard should be an interesting exercise.