Notebook: Jake Ryan cleared by doctors, could return as early as Saturday

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By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 7, 2013

Michigan coach Brady Hoke chose his words carefully. When pressed, Hoke said that injured redshirt junior linebacker Jake Ryan could “potentially” return against Penn State on Saturday. Whether Ryan will actually play is still uncertain.

For the first time, though, Hoke acknowledged that Ryan has received clearance to play from doctors. He has taken part in contact drills in practice. Now, the decision about when to play Ryan is up to Hoke and Ryan.

“Believe me, he’s wanting to play,” Hoke said. “Seems to feel OK, but we still need to make sure that he can do the things that he’s capable of doing.”

Ryan tore his anterior cruciate ligament nearly six-and-a-half months ago at a practice on March 19. He underwent surgery a week later on March 26. The team has said throughout the process that the target for Ryan’s return is sometime in October.

When Ryan does return, he’ll take some playing time from junior linebacker Brennen Beyer, who has been one of the defense’s best players this season. That will add depth to the strong-side linebacker position, Hoke said. He added that Beyer could move back to defensive end, where he played his first two seasons, depending on the personnel and situation.

When Ryan is healthy, he is likely the best player on Michigan’s defense. Last year, he recorded 4.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss.

Ryan is also a player that should have a future in the National Football League. Hoke has said he wants to be sure Ryan is ready to return, but Ryan’s eagerness to return can complicate that.

“He wanted to play last week,” Hoke said. “He wanted to play the week before. What do you think he’s going to say? ‘No, coach, I don’t wanna play.’ ”

As Hoke got up to leave, a reporter reminded Hoke that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney asked not to play in his last game with bruised ribs. Hoke continued walking. With a smile, he said, “I’m not even going there.”

PIPKINS OUT FOR YEAR WITH ACL TEAR: As speculation over Ryan’s return built, the team announced Monday that sophomore defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins will miss the rest of the season with an ACL tear.

“I’m pretty close to him because I coach him,” Hoke said. “Your heart just goes out to Ondre.”

Pipkins doesn’t seem a likely candidate for a medical redshirt. The NCAA stipulates that to receive a medical redshirt, the player must not play in more than 30 percent of the season. Michigan has passed the 30-percent mark.

There is one remaining option, though. NCAA bylaw — yes, that’s the actual number — allows for review by a committee. The rule states, in part, that a conference may appear to the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, which “shall have the authority to review and determine whether to approve the waiver based on circumstances that may warrant relief from the application of the legislated waiver criteria.” A spokesman for the Big Ten conference said a decision can be appealed, but declined to comment on any specific cases.

“That’s all something that we’ll have to appeal and do all that stuff with,” Hoke said. “It’s way too soon to say it is or isn’t.”

Hoke mentioned redshirt junior Richard Ash and redshirt freshmen Willie Henry and Ryan Glasgow as players that could see more time in Pipkins’s absence.

LATE-NIGHT TEXTS: At 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Hoke’s phone buzzed with a text from fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan.

After beating Minnesota, Lewan’s attention had turned to the Wolverines’ next opponent: Penn State. Hoke said the message read “Coach, it’s going to be loud at Penn State. We need more crowd noise this week.”

Hoke, who said he’s relatively new to texting, replied “OK.”

Michigan has struggled on the road since Hoke took over as coach. At home, Hoke has never lost. In away games, though, Hoke’s Michigan teams have gone 5-5.

Penn State has one of the most hostile stadium’s in the conference. (“Oh shoot, what a great place to play,” Hoke said of Beaver Stadium).

The Nittany Lions also have one of the most talented freshmen quarterbacks in the nation in Christian Hackenberg. Hoke spoke highly of Hackenberg in his press conference.

“I’ll tell ya, he’s very talented,” Hoke said. “Very talented. He can spin it. Shows a lot of maturity.”

NOTEABLE QUOTABLE: Lewan was asked if Penn State was the loudest stadium he’s played at. “Probably,” he said. “That or Ohio State.” When Lewan realized he had accidently named his rival by its proper title, he apologized. “I mean Ohio. I apologize to coach Hoke.”