Now that spring practice is over, we're starting a new series looking at 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/crushed by a safe, 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 start off, in no particular order, with the Michigan Wolverines:
Devin Gardner, QB, Sr.
Picking a starting quarterback for any team is pretty obvious, but Gardner might be as indispensable -- again, not the same thing as best -- quarterback in the league. That's because his only experienced backup, Russell Bellomy, tore his ACL in the spring. Right now, walk-on Brian Cleary is the No. 2 quarterback, and if anything happened to Gardner in the fall, the Wolverines likely would turn to true freshman Shane Morris. Michigan wouldn't have to completely change the offense if it lost Gardner as it did last year when Denard Robinson went down at Nebraska. But the offense's productivity -- and likely the team's fortunes -- would take a major hit if he were removed from the equation.
Taylor Lewan, LT, Sr.
Here's a case where Michigan's most indispensable players are probably also their best ones. The Wolverines already lost a very valuable star in linebacker Jake Ryan, but at least they have depth at that position. Not so much at offensive line, where Lewan is one of only two returning starters and by far the most decorated. His decision to return for his senior year rather than become a possible high first-round NFL draft pick changed the entire outlook of the offensive line. He's also developing into a respected senior leader. Without Lewan, Michigan would likely have to insert a freshman like Logan Tuley-Tillman or Erik Magnuson at one of the tackle spots. And things definitely wouldn't be the same without the All-American.