ALLEN PARK, Mich. – As a former undrafted free agent, Braxston Cave should be anonymous. Yet for the former Irish center, the coaching he got during his final season in South Bend continues to make him stand out, including with the Detroit Lions, where he finished minicamp on Thursday.
The Cleveland Browns first signed Cave two years ago after he fell through the draft, then cut him just before the season. Cave caught on in New England with the practice squad, then got cut last August. He spent last season split between Washington and a return to Cleveland.
Cave signed with the Lions last winter.
At every stop, every NFL offensive line coach has asked Cave about Harry Hiestand, who coached five years with the Chicago Bears (2005-09), which included a Super Bowl appearance.
“I’ve even had coaches ask me how we did things at Notre Dame,” Cave said. “He’s a great guy to learn from. I’m extremely happy that I had him for a year. I’ve got nothing but respect for the guy.”
Cave knows the odds are against him in Detroit with 15 offensive linemen – four are listed as centers – on the summer roster. Just eight made the Lions final 53-man roster last August. Cave worked with the second and third teams during the final two days of minicamp this week.
Aside from that season under Hiestand, Cave may get a boost from the fact Detroit has just two offensive linemen on the roster with more than three years experience. The Lions also have five former Notre Dame players in Cave, Golden Tate, Theo Riddick, TJ Jones and Kyle Brindza.
“It’s tough, but I knew coming into it that it was going to be an uphill battle,” Cave said. “Being an undrafted guy, you have to earn your spot every day, every week. I’ve been lucky to have some great coaches along the way that have taught me some things that will keep me in the league for a while.”
Cave will get married next month to his girlfriend of a decade, dating back to high school at Penn in Mishawaka, Ind. He had his bachelor party in South Carolina this summer built around Charlie Weis’ Hannah & Friends charity event. Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, Brady Quinn and a handful of other former teammates attended.
If Cave’s carousel stops in Detroit this season, the center will be thrilled to stay. He’s learned enough tough lessons after getting released four times to savor stability. As much as Hiestand helped Cave prepare for the zone blocking concepts in Detroit, no advice could have prepped the three-year Irish starter for the constant moves.
“When you come from college, you may have a bad day but you know you’re going to be there tomorrow,” Cave said. “That was the biggest difference. There were times where you might have a bad practice and you’re like, ‘Man, I might not be here tomorrow.’
“You learn how the NFL is. You learn it’s a business, strictly a business. You gotta go to work every day. It takes one team to catch on.”