- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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We're looking this week at the most indispensable players on each team in the Big Ten.
As a reminder, indispensable doesn’t necessarily mean best.
The goal is to identify the players most difficult to replace if they suffered an injury or were lost to suspension. We’re picking two from each team who fit the bill -- typically one each on offense and defense.
Up next, the Nebraska Cornhuskers:
QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.: The key to a successful coaching transition for Nebraska under Mike Riley involves the adjustment to a new offensive system. And the most important player in that transition is Armstrong, the junior 21-game starter who ranked ninth nationally last season in yards per completion and improved his completion rate as a sophomore slightly to 53.3 percent.
The Huskers need something closer to 60 percent from Armstrong as a junior. More notably, they need him to stay healthy. New offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf lectured Armstrong since their first meetings on protecting his body. His knowledge and maturity are essential for the development of inexperienced players on the Nebraska offense.
Behind Armstrong, the Huskers are untested at QB. Redshirt freshmen A.J. Bush and Zack Darlington enjoyed solid springs, vaulting into a tight race or perhaps slightly above Johnny Stanton and Ryker Fyfe -- the backups last season.
DT Maliek Collins: Opportunity arrives for Collins with the reworked defensive scheme under new coordinator Mark Banker. At 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, Collins is a beast, and he displayed his skills plenty as a sophomore, recording 14 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
He ought to emerge as a more disruptive force in this system, which allows increased freedom to attack for the interior linemen. The Huskers, with Vincent Valentine as Collins' running mate in the middle, aren’t deep on the D-line, but their top guys can go toe to toe with any group in the Big Ten.
Look for Collins’ big personality to shine more regularly in 2015, too, as an upperclassmen and a well-defined leader among a front four that seeks to replace the athleticism and play-making of Randy Gregory.
4dBrian Bennett and Mitch Sherman