Michigan linebacker Ryan working way back from torn ACL; eyes 2012 return
Toussaint back from broken leg; Gardner assumes QB duties
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jake Ryan stood in the middle of Michigan's locker room surrounded by reporters, and for a moment he looked like any other player.
That's not the case, of course. Ryan is still recovering from a spring practice knee injury that required surgery, and although his rehab is going well, the standout linebacker needs to be patient.
"I'm just going through it and doing the best I can with it," Ryan said at media day Sunday. "I'm pushing as hard as I can, but I'm not going to do anything that they're going to tell me not to do."
Michigan is preparing to start the season without him. An October return still sounds like the most plausible scenario and, at this point, Ryan is trying to work his way through treatment and therapy so he can remain on schedule.
Ryan had a team-high 88 tackles last season as a redshirt sophomore, along with 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He went down March 19 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
"I took a cut, and just went out to my right and tore it," Ryan said. "I knew when it happened."
Ryan has made a lot of progress since then, but he still isn't ready for full contact or anything like that.
"I'm not going to go all out in practice. I'm not going to tackle and stuff like that," he said. "I'm definitely doing as much as I can."
Michigan plays host to Notre Dame in September, but the schedule really toughens in November, when the Wolverines start the month with a trip to Michigan State before playing host to Nebraska at home. Michigan plays host to Ohio State to end the regular season Nov. 30.
If all goes well, Ryan will be back for those games -- although the timetable for his return is still uncertain enough that teammate Taylor Lewan seemed hesitant to talk about it.
"I think Jake's done a great job," Lewan said. "It's unbelievable just to see the work he's done. I'm excited to see him, come October. Or whenever his timeline is up. I know everyone is wondering about his timeline. I don't know. So if you all want to ask me about that, I don't know his timeline."
Ryan himself was a little more forthcoming. He's aiming to be back in October.
"When I had my surgery, I kind of took it from there and said, 'OK, six months is kind of my goal,' " he said. "That's when you get back to 100 percent. I think that's still my goal right now, and I'm trying to work toward that."
Ryan isn't the only player returning from a major injury. Cornerback Blake Countess tore an ACL in last season's opener against Alabama, and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint broke his left leg in November.
Michigan figures to a have a more conventional-looking offense this year now that Denard Robinson's college career is over. Devin Gardner is ready to take over at quarterback after starting the final five games there last season.
"I feel like I've done it the right way," Gardner said. "I've waited my turn, I've helped the team in every way possible, and now I get an opportunity to lead the team."
Gardner completed 59.5 percent of his passes last season.
"Is he where he needs to be yet? No. Is he capable? Yes, I don't think there is any doubt -- from intelligence and football, his knowledge and how he thinks it and works it," Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said. "This will be a real big telling point of where he is as a quarterback."
Toussaint rushed for more than 1,000 yards two seasons ago. He's part of a crowded backfield now, but Hoke is pleased with his progress after last year's gruesome injury.
"He's done everything," Hoke said. "We hit each other pretty good [Saturday] in both practices. He's done everything. He's been great."