- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Player series.
First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' most important player.
And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too.
Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on their living up to expectations. Or their absence.
Utah: LB/DE Trevor Reilly
2012 production: Posted 69 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. He also had an interception, broke up four passes, forced three fumbles and recovered another.
Why Reilly is so important: Strong consideration was given to Jeremiah Poutasi, an All-American candidate on the offensive line who is making the switch from right to left tackle this season after starting 10 games as a true freshman last year. There might be no more important job than protecting Travis Wilson's blind side.
But as the Utes' defense looks to adjust to life without Star Lotulelei and the Kruger brothers on the defensive line -- 75 percent of a defensive front that is gone after ranking second in the league against the run -- players like Reilly take on even greater importance. Mainly because Reilly will be asked to transition between defensive end and linebacker much more frequently than he did last year.
For starters, he returns as Utah's leading tackler. That's always nice to have. And though he's versatile enough to play all over the field, he'll be asked to take on a greater role as a pass-rusher while also maintaining his stop-the-run approach. When he's at linebacker, look for Jason Whittingham to be on the right end -- which means lots of speed crashing on the backfield. That should also open things up for Nate Orchard and Brian Blechen, who is making the move from the secondary to linebacker.
Plus, Reilly is a proven commodity, which never hurts when you lose six starters from your defense. After redshirting in 2009, Reilly has appeared in 36 games with 20 starts. When he's around the football, bad things happen for the other team. He's forced seven career fumbles -- which ties him for third in school history -- and he's tallied 21 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks.
His performance in 2012 was enough for him to earn honorable mention all-league honors and he was already considered one of the Utes' defensive leaders. That role will need to increase as Utah rebuilds its front seven with a lot of new/moving parts.
It's very possible that Utah's offense and defense swap places in 2013. Last season it was the defense that carried the Utes, but the impact of new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson and the rise of Wilson at quarterback could be game-changers. As the offense gets better, it's possible that the defense takes a hit during the rebuilding process. It's Reilly's job to make sure that doesn't happen. No pressure.
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