Now that spring practice is solidly in the rearview mirror, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.
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 or suspended or had to go battle White Walkers north of The Wall. 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 Illinois Fighting Illini.
Jonathan Brown, LB
Don't forget that Brown might never have been 100 percent healthy in 2012, when the Illini defense struggled mightily. He played in nine games but lacked the production he showed in a breakout sophomore campaign. Would Brown have made a huge difference in Illinois' final 2-10 record? Most likely not, since the team had so many other problems. But don't discount just how valuable a player he can be. This is a guy, after all, who had 108 tackles, six sacks and 19.5 TFLs in 2011. While Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina turned in promising campaigns as true freshman linebackers last year, defensive coordinator Chris Beatty would love to have a healthy Brown as a defensive difference maker in 2013.
Donovonn Young, RB
Frankly, it's a tough call finding two truly indispensable Illini because of how undistinguished most of the returning players are. That happens on a 2-10 team. We believe that the offense is better off with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase starting, but that Reilly O'Toole or even freshman Aaron Bailey could handle the reins without him. Illinois will likely need Martize Barr and Miles Osei to stay healthy among a thin receiving corps, especially after the dismissal of Darius Millines. But Young is a guy who looks like a potential centerpiece of the offense, especially after he ran for 86 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. He's a physical runner who could provide the punch in Bill Cubit's spread offense and improve a ground game that ranked last in the Big Ten in yards per carry last year. Josh Ferguson is a solid option at running back as well and brings a lot of speed to the table. But he's also been injury prone during his career, making Young look even more indispensable.