ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It’s been several weeks now since Michigan strong-side defensive end Rashan Gary suited up in the maize and blue for the Wolverines, after going out with injury against Northwestern back in Week Five. Since, the former five-star has been in street clothes for the rest of Michigan’s home slate, and didn’t travel to East Lansing for the Wolverines in-state rivalry against MSU.
His mother, Jennifer Coney-Shepherd, dispelled the rumor on Facebook that was circulating (from some questionable outlets) that Gary was going the way of Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, who was announced to be withdrawing from the Buckeyes around the same time to focus on the NFL Draft in the wake of his injury.
Those rumors have proven to be false anyhow, as Gary remains a part of this Michigan team, and is working to get back onto the playing field.
Upon hearing the rumormongering, it was hurtful to those on the team who work alongside Gary on a daily basis, such as defensive tackle Carlo Kemp, who came to Ann Arbor in the 2016 recruiting class along with Gary, and was once his backup at SDE.
“For me, it’s frustrating, just because Rashan is one of my really good friends and you feel for him, because it’s not what he’s doing,” Kemp said. “He’s trying to play. He’s trying to get in the game. I feel for him on that.”
But the questions linger, and likely will continue until he does suit up once again.
Of course, Gary has the team’s support and patience as he works towards a return this season after suffering a preseason shoulder injury that was made worse in that Northwestern game. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said in his weekly press conference on Monday that he’s still unsure of when Gary will return and what his status is, but his teammates insist that the team leader is working diligently in his rehabilitation towards a return.
Gary was instrumental in getting Chase Winovich to return for his fifth-year to Ann Arbor. So does that mean that Winovich is pushing Gary to get back onto the field?
Not quite, Winovich says. For now, patience is key.
“Rashan Gary isn’t the type of guy that needs a prod or pat in the back just to go through treatment and come back,” Winovich said. “Rashan Gary knows when Rashan Gary is healthy enough or whatever to play. I know that he wants to play football just as much as anybody else. So, when that time comes, obviously, we’re going to welcome him with open arms. But, until that time comes, we’ve got a job to do, just like with anybody. If I got hurt, it would be the same way. We’ve got a job to do and we’re going to do it.
“Like I said, if Rashan feels like he’s up for the task and ready to go, that’s awesome. That’s great for our defense.”
While his teammates remain patient, even with four regular season games to go, and a big game looming against Penn State, Kemp says that Gary is attacking his rehab the same way he tries to get at opposing quarterbacks: with everything he’s got.
“He’s just a hard worker – everything he does,” Kemp said. “If it’s football, he’s working hard, trying to be the best. Now he’s attacking the rehab, trying to get back. For those of you – I know Rashan very, very closely – he’s not a guy that’s trying to take himself out of the game. He’s always trying to get in the game.
“So that’s what he’s doing: he’s working hard, just trying to get back on the field and start playing again.”
In the meantime, Gary is making the most of his situation, his teammates say, as he’s done the player-coach-type thing, in the sense that he’s still incredibly active even when he can’t practice.
Kemp says that it’s been a huge boon to continue to have Gary’s enthusiasm
“Rashan’s there every single day: in the meeting room, on the practice field, teaching, helping us watch film,” Kemp said. “Between rehabbing, he’s got a lot on his plate, and he’s doing it very, very well.”
While Gary has been sidelined with no openly admitted timetable for return (his mother said 4-6 weeks from the time of injury back in Week Five — and it’s Week Ten now), his teammates have stepped up in his absence.
His backup, Kwity Paye, has had 8 tackles 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks in Gary’s absence. SAM linebacker Josh Uche — who’s utilized as a situational pass rusher — has added 7 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 5 sacks in the interim as well.
As far as Winovich sees it, that’s Michigan’s next man up mentality in action.
“I thought we’ve done our job,” Winovich said. “Like I’ve talked about in previous interviews, a difference between this year and last year is the depth and people being able to step up and fill under those roles. And we have guys. I think we’ve done our job, and I can’t speak in hypotheticals: ‘What if he was in this game?’ I just know what it is and I know he’s a great player, but we’re a great defense. With or without him, we’re going to find ways to win games.”
With or without Rashan Gary, No. 5 Michigan will take on No. 14 Penn State on Saturday at 3:45PM at The Big House.