Pac-12: indispensable player 2011

Indispensable player: Stanford

July, 13, 2011
7/13/11
11:07
AM ET
See your team in your mind's eye -- 24 starters, including specialists.

If you could put an absolute halo of safety -- perhaps a girdle of indestructibility? -- around just one, who would it be?

We're rating each team's most indispensable player. And when the choice is too obvious -- say, Stanford -- we'll try to offer a second choice.

Up next: Stanford

OT Jonathan Martin

Martin, a junior, is probably the best offensive lineman in the Pac-12. Perhaps even more notable: The 6-foot-6, 304-pounder protects the blindside of the best player in college football. So, yeah, QB Andrew Luck is the Cardinal's most irreplaceable player. But the head man in charge of making sure that there's no need to consider that dire possibility is Martin. Martin was honorable mention All-Pac-10 as a redshirt freshman and first-team All-Pac-10 as a sophomore. He'll likely get plenty of preseason All-American attention -- he's already been named to the Playboy All-American team. He has started 24 of 26 games over the past two seasons at left tackle, and last year the Cardinal gave up just six sacks after giving up seven the year before. Oh, and he's also a very good run blocker. Further, he's one of only two returning starters on the Cardinal's O-line -- All-American candidate David DeCastro is the other at right guard -- and the depth behind him owns little to no experience. Best guess is senior Tyler Mabry, who has no starts to his credit, would switch from right to left tackle if Martin went down, and redshirt freshman David Yankey would step in on the right side for Mabry. That is not a scenario Stanford -- or Luck -- wants to explore.

Indispensable player: Oregon

July, 11, 2011
7/11/11
12:00
PM ET
See your team in your mind's eye -- 24 starters, including specialists.

If you could put an absolute halo of safety -- perhaps a girdle of indestructibility? -- around just one, who would it be?

We're rating each team's most indispensable player. And when the choice is too obvious -- say, Stanford -- we'll try to offer a second choice.

Up next: Oregon

QB Darron Thomas

Running back LaMichael James and cornerback Cliff Harris are the Ducks' biggest superstars -- both preseason All-Americans -- but the depth behind them is so strong, it wouldn't be crushing to lose either. Mind you: It wouldn't feel good; it just wouldn't turn the Ducks into an eight-win team from an 10- or 11-win team. And Thomas' backup, redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett, has been impressive at times, so there wouldn't be an absolute panic if Thomas went down. Bennett has impressive dual-threat skills that would work well in Chip Kelly's spread-option attack, and Kelly's record with quarterback development couldn't be much better (Ricky Santos, Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli and then Thomas). Still, he's a redshirt freshman and he suffered through what was, at times, a humbling spring. No one knows how he might react if he was suddenly handed the keys to the Ducks' high-powered offense. Further, one would think Thomas, who was good enough to earn second-team All-Pac-10 honors as a first-year starter, is headed for an uptick based on his steady improvement throughout the 2010 season. He's a good leader and his mentally tough performance in the national title game -- recall he recovered from a jittery start -- suggests he's ready for an expanded role. Finally, if Thomas went down and Bennett went in, the QB options thereafter would be severely limited: true freshman Marcus Mariota or Daryle Hawkins, a former QB who's been playing receiver.

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