Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.
By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/run over by a rickshaw, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.
We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Let's turn now to the Minnesota Golden Gophers:
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT
The Gophers had pretty good competition for playing time all along their defensive front this spring. With the exception, that is, of Hageman's spot. He's the most accomplished veteran on that line and maybe the best overall athlete on the entire team at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds. Minnesota expect Hageman to build on the progress he made his junior year and become a truly dominant figure as a senior. The defensive tackle spot is not bare outside of Hageman; Cameron Botticelli returns at the other spot after starting all 13 games last season, and the coaches really like the potential of Scott Ekpe. But they don't make too many guys like Hageman, and his skills would be awfully tough to replace.
Ed Olson, LT
Loads of injuries on the offensive line last year had one positive effect for Minnesota: Young players were forced to gain experience, and now there's some actual depth in that group. Still, the offensive line is different when Olson is anchoring it at left tackle. This will be his fourth year as a starter, and when he got hurt after six games last year, there was a noticeable drop-off in performance for the line as a whole. Olson also missed this spring because of an injury, and Marek Lenkiewicz took his first-team reps. Lenkiewicz is capable, but the Gophers would feel the loss if Olson wasn't there to protect Philip Nelson's blind side.