Ann Arbor – Nothing is clear regarding the potential return of Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary, but his teammates say he is working toward that goal.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh offered no revelations regarding injury updates on Monday as the fifth-ranked Wolverines (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) begin preparations to face Penn State on Saturday at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines did not play last Saturday and have four regular-season games remaining.
Gary has missed the last three games with an injury to the AC joint in his right shoulder. Harbaugh also did not have an update on right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, although right guard Michael Onwenu on Monday said Bushell-Beatty will be back this week. Also, Harbaugh shed no light on receiver Tarik Black, who broke his right foot a week before the season. He was in uniform at Michigan State, went through pre-game drills and was on the field for a play before a timeout, but did not return to the field the rest of the game.
But it is Gary, an All-Big Ten first-team selection last season, who has been the biggest question.
Last Monday, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked if this is a season-ending injury or if Gary will be back.
“I don’t know,” Harbaugh said.
Gary did practice last week, and Harbaugh said he has made “progress” but ultimately Gary didn’t feel like he could play in the game against MSU. He did not travel with the team.
Defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said Monday that Gary, a junior with high NFL upside, is pushing himself in rehab so he can return.
“He’s just a hard worker, everything he does,” Kemp said. “If it’s football, he’s working hard, he’s trying to be the best. Now he’s attacking rehab, trying to get back. For those of you that … 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 been working hard trying to get back on the field and start playing again.”
Gary sits in on every defensive meeting, helps in film watching and is on the practice field teaching, along with handling his rehab, Kemp said.
“He’s got a lot on his plate and he’s doing it very, very well,” Kemp said.
Defensive end Chase Winovich returned for his final season instead of pursing the NFL in part because Gary encouraged him to come back. Winovich was asked Monday how much he’s working on Gary to push through rehab so he can play again this season.
“Rashan Gary is the type of guy that doesn’t need a prod or a pat on the back to go through treatment and come back,” Winovich said. “Rashan Gary knows when Rashan Gary is healthy enough to play. I know he wants to play football 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 if I got hurt, it would be the same way. We’ve got a job to do and we’re going to do it. If Rashan feels he’s up for the task and ready to go, that’s awesome. And that’s great for our defense.”
Michigan’s top-rated defense has played well in Gary’s absence. Kwity Paye has been a significant boost for the Wolverines as his replacement.
“We’ve done our job. We’ve got a job to do,” Winovich said. “I’ve talked about this, where a difference between this year and last year is depth and people able to step up and fill those roles.
“I can’t speak in hypotheticals, ‘What if he was in this game?’ I just know what it is. I know he’s a great player, but we’re a great defense. With or without him we’re going to find a way to win.”
Kemp said Gary is experiencing frustration with his inability to play the last three games.
“You can see it,” Kemp said. “Everybody wants to play, especially Rashan. He’s one of our big leaders, vocally, through his play, and one of our best friends on the team. It’s hard not getting to play every single practice and game with your brother. You feel it for him. He’s going through it and he’s working his hardest to get back on the field.”
There has been considerable conversation about Gary’s future considering Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa has decided he won’t be able to return to the field this season after surgery and will instead begin preparing for the NFL.
Gary’s mother Jennifer Coney-Shepherd shared her feelings about her son last week in a lengthy response on “The Winged Helmet” page on Facebook.
Harbaugh was asked if Gary has given any idea whether he might not return.
“Hasn’t indicated that,” Harbaugh.
Coney-Shepherd revealed Gary was injured a week before the Notre Dame.
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown last week was asked about Gary and how the defensive line has filled in for his absence.
“Obviously, we’re trying desperately to get Rashan Gary back,” Brown said. “We’ll see where that takes us with the bye week looking us right down the barrel here. We’ll see if we can get that young man healthy. But the development of Kwity Paye has certainly not gone unnoticed.
“He’s really becoming a stalwart for us. Carlo Kemp continues to grow as an inside defensive tackle. I think Bryan Mone had our best game for us as our nose guard and Chase Winovich is kind of a, I don’t know what you call him, but he’s a crazy man that just plays with his hair on fire all the time. I think he has a tremendous effect on our football team because of his energy level.”