Pac-12: Ricky Santos

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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