Linebacker Jake Ryan’s return to the field last Saturday didn’t go quite the way he had wanted.
After six months of rehab -- a goal he had set shortly after his surgery, and announced last April -- he had hoped his first game back would be a win. But unfortunately for Michigan, his return also marked the Wolverines’ first loss of the season, a 43-40 defeat to Penn State in four overtimes.
He only registered three tackles, but came up with a huge stop on fourth-and-1 in the first quarter when Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg tried to get through the front line for a first down.
Overall, it wasn’t the greatest performance of his career, but it showed that he still has his spark and explosiveness and his return to the team is going to bring up the level of the defense.
“I’m still the same player I am,” Ryan said. “I just have a knee brace on and I don’t have long hair.”
He had felt ready to go, but his parents and grandmother had come in to speak with the medical staff and Ryan said they felt reassured after speaking with the professionals. He was cleared to play after the Minnesota game on Oct. 5.
The clearance date was right on schedule for Ryan -- just over six months from the surgery (March 28, 2013). It was a mark that Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he never doubted, which is why he felt so confident to announce it at Michigan’s spring game last season.
“Since the day he had surgery and came back to Schembechler Hall, he has worked tirelessly with the rehab specialists, the docs, the trainers, the strength staff,” Hoke said. “I don’t think there was any doubt in my mind that he would be back about this time.”
With Ryan absent through the first five games this season the Wolverines relied on Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon to take the SAM linebacker snaps. Since both had impressed this season, Greg Mattison didn’t want to throw it all to the wind, so they went with a rotation against the Nittany Lions, with each linebacker playing three snaps at a time, which Ryan thought worked well.
They’ll likely go with a similar plan this weekend as the Wolverines welcome Indiana to Ann Arbor.
The Hoosiers have run 77 plays per game this season (as opposed to Michigan’s 68 plays per game), so the Wolverines will be facing a very high tempo where the SAM linebacker depth -- as well as the rest of the defense’s depth -- will come in handy.
“The tempo this week will be as high as it’s going to be all year, between them and Northwestern,” Hoke said “We’re going to need bodies to come in and out. I think that’s fine. And then when you get in sub groups, it changes a little bit. But the more depth, the better you’re going to be.”