Michigan was able to squeeze out a victory in its first five games, and now, the leader of the team could be back before anybody anticipated. Last year's leading tackler, Jake Ryan, who tore his ACL during spring practice, has been cleared to play, according to Nick Baumgardner of Mlive.com.
Head coach Brady Hoke said that he has been medically cleared to play and could make his season debut as early as this week against Penn State. However, he doesn't want to rush things and seems a little hesitant on playing his star linebacker, per the report.
"We'll just see," Hoke said. "Playing football when you haven't played in a long time, when you try to get him in (in practice, it's an adjustment. I'm probably more worried about it than anybody."
Can Michigan win the Big Ten with Jake Ryan healthy?
An ACL injury is about as serious an injury as an athlete can experience, and it can take a year or two before a player is fully recovered. Getting himself cleared in about seven months is remarkable in itself, but it doesn't mean Ryan is out of the woods just yet.
Hoke wants to make sure his knee is fully recovered, as there's risk involved with putting him on the field this early. Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose just made his return to the basketball court after missing more than a year due to an ACL injury. There's a lot more risk involved when you're a football player.
Offensive lineman Taylor Lewan chimed in on the latest news, per Baumgardner:
Lewan on Jake Ryan: "I don't think the kid knows he's hurt. He's the same Jake, he just has shorter hair."— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) October 7, 2013
Regardless of how many minutes Ryan is on the field, just having him back is a boost in itself. Michigan has been shaky during the start of the season, nearly losing to Akron and Connecticut. Ryan is sure to add playmaking ability to a defense that's ranked fourth in the Big Ten. He'll also provide an emotional lift during the close games that are sure to continue with the Wolverines diving into their Big Ten schedule.
Last season, Ryan was an All-Big Ten player, racking up 88 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and five forced fumbles.
Michigan is a much better team with him on the field. Whenever that may be.