Introduction and those that just missed the cut…
#6 Cierre Wood and #5 Zack MartinMore than 1,100 rushing yards…better than five yards per carry in consecutive seasons…the most rushing touchdowns in one year at the program since 2005, and more than 1,750 total yards accrued in his last 18 games...
Senior running back Cierre Wood is on the short list for Notre Dame's Top 5 players (I tentatively have him set at #4) heading into 2012. But this isn't a list of the team's best overall or its most likely draft picks, or even most explosive skill position players – it's the annual Indispensable list, and Wood's classmate and personal escort on the left side of scrimmage, Zack Martin, comes in a notch ahead this season.
Martin's unique ability to bash heads at the line of scrimmage, set in pass protection (he allowed just one sack last season according to the Irish staff) and get 5, 10, even 20 yards downfield on lead blocks cannot be replicated by his backup, (techinically redshirt-freshman Jordan Prestwood), nor anyone else on the roster. His versatility has been the underrated key to a successful running attack in Brian Kelly's first two seasons.
While Wood is clearly the team's best overall runner as of May 2012, a backfield committee could, and likely would, bring enough to the table to mitigate his loss over a period of time. Aside from proven production and experience, the combination of Irish runners Theo Riddick, Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson and incoming freshmen Will Mahone and Keivarae Russell possess nearly every skill set necessary to allow the team's running game to click for 13 weeks in Wood's potential absence. And they'd all be running behind Martin and fellow senior left-side Chris Watt, who just missed the cut for this list.
No offensive lineman could take Martin's role and run with it and trying to use multiple players at the left tackle position to fill the bill isn't a viable option along an offensive front that thrives on continuity.
In good health, Wood will lead the team in rushing attempts, yards, touchdowns, and all-purpose yards from scrimmage next fall. And he'll do so in part because he has the nation's most underrated left tackle is doing the dirty work – all over the field – on every snap.
The Irish need Wood, but they need Martin more…and the latter's not even the "most" indispensable player among his own position group.
Next in our series: The team's best offensive player comes in at No. 4 in the countdown of 10 Indispensable Irish for 2012.