ANN ARBOR — Monday morning, the Michigan football program announced that defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
Within an hour of the announcement, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke addressed the possibility of the return of linebacker Jake Ryan.
The emphasis, right now, rests on “possibility.”
Ryan, a redshirt junior, tore his ACL during spring practices in March and has yet to play a game this season. Hoke said doctors had cleared Ryan to return, but a final decision as to whether or not Ryan plays for the No. 18 Wolverines (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten Conference) Saturday at Penn State will come down to Hoke conferring with Ryan.
“Is it on the table?” Hoke said. “Potentially.”
Known for his explosiveness, Ryan had 88 tackles, including 16 for a loss of 71 yards, and four and a half sacks in 2012.
His presence would further help a team that enters the week fourth in the Big Ten in total defense (305 yards), fourth in pass-defense efficiency (107.2 yards), and fifth in the Big Ten in interceptions (seven).
“I think he’s getting closer,” Hoke said of the second-team All-Big Ten selection. “We’ll have a good practice with him [Tuesday]. He’s wanting to play. He seems to feel OK, but we still need to make sure he can do the things that he’s capable of doing.”
If Ryan were to return this weekend against the Nittany Lions (3-2, 0-1), Hoke said he and his staff would plan to limit Ryan’s contributions.
“When you haven’t played in a long time and you try to get him in, get him in, and get him in, we won’t put him in everything,” Hoke said.
Hoke’s hesitation was based on evaluating the structural aspect of Ryan’s injury and surgery and how his explosiveness would factor into his play.
“I know the doctors have cleared him, but it’s how that holds up,” Hoke said. “He plays pretty fast. I’m probably more worried about it than anything.”
Offensive lineman Taylor Lewan said there is “no doubt” that Ryan wants to return.
“That says so much about him as a leader and as a person,” Lewan said. “But as far as him playing this weekend, that’s for the coaches to say.
“The way he’s been playing, Jake’s Jake.”
Pipkins, a sophomore, suffered the ACL tear Saturday during Michigan’s 42-13 win over Minnesota in its Big Ten opener. Pipkins had seven tackles in five games this season and prior to the injury, Pipkins was second on the depth chart at nose tackle behind Quinton Washington. Richard Ash, a redshirt junior, now moves to No. 2 on the depth chart at nose tackle.
“We’ve got multiple guys to play there,” Hoke said. “Your heart goes out for Ondre because of the hard work he’s put in, and he gets hurt. But, obviously, I’m pretty close to him because I coach him. It’s something that’s a little bit of adversity for him and for our team. But just like anything else, we’ll keep working together and get through it.”
Hoke would not say whether Pipkins could redshirt this season.
“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 if it is or it isn’t.”