ANN ARBOR, Mich. — There’s a rectangular window located near the entrance of Schembechler Hall, one that’s provided a two-year-long glimpse into the career of Michigan defensive lineman Bryan Mone.
The picture has been anything but ideal.
In 2015, he passed by that window riding a knee scooter, nursing a severe ankle injury suffered during the preseason. A freak play during special teams sessions knocked him out of the loop. He didn’t play at all during Michigan’s 10-3 season. Just a few weeks ago, he hobbled past that window while on crutches. Questions then surfaced about his availability for 2016.
With that said, he again crossed paths with the window this past Tuesday. But instead of being injured, Mone strolled out of the practice facility in good health. No brace. No crutches. Nothing helping him walk. Backward Pittsburgh Pirates hat, hair flowing — it was Mone, the real Mone.
Like the rest of the team, defensive line coach Greg Mattison — who heavily recruited Mone in 2014 — has eagerly awaited the return of the 6-foot-4, 310-pounder out of Salt Lake City. Not only because of potential production, but because of what Mone means to his 80-plus teammates.
“He’s been great. Bryan has given so much to this program and to this defensive line,” Mattison said during Wednesday’s availability at Schembechler Hall. “He is so… so into that group, and our players respect him so much. For him to get the (knee) injury that he had, and to watch him — again — be another guy that has worked so hard at training, and so hard at getting back…”
Mattison elaborated on Mone’s impact on the psyche of teammates.
“You know, him being in practice this week has been exciting,” Mattison added. “The guys, when they saw him come out with his pads on, they see him and say, ‘Ohhh.’ They’re excited about that — that fires them up. Because they love him. They like how he plays. They like what it means to him. It’s just always good to have a guy like that back.”
Unfortunately, bumps and bruises are part of the territory. For Mone, they’ve pretty much scorched the landscape, though. It’s hard to believe that he’s only made one start and 12 appearances since his arrival.
“I think that’s part of football. Both of the (injuries) were unfortunate,” Mattison said. “You never know when something like that’s going to happen. And the fact that he probably had one of the best camps of anybody, you know, he had really, really worked at it.
“But the good news, and we always look at it positively, is we’ve got a whole season ahead of us. For him to be able to come through that now is different than it was last time. And now, he’ll pick up right where he left off.”
— Sports in the Mitten (@SITMBigAndKid) September 30, 2016
At his peak, Mone could be a six-, seven- or eight-sack guy for the Wolverines, who have one of the best defensive lines in the country. This past week, they finished with 13 tackles for a loss and six sacks during a 49-10 victory over Penn State. Already potent, the D-line could be much more lethal with a fully functional Mone, who most certainly has the skills to push his position group over the edge.
During the preseason, Mone was upfront about his intentions for 2016: He wanted to play with high energy and have fun. The first five weeks have been anything but ideal for him, but there’s really no questioning what he’ll do once he returns to the rotation.
Whether or not he plays Saturday versus Wisconsin doesn’t matter. The Wolverines, thanks to depth, have enough to combat the Badgers’ O-line. But Mone means more than having an able body on the field — he’s part of the team’s larger presence.
It’s just a shame that his window of opportunity has been limited by things beyond his control. But that window got a little bigger this week. Coach Jim Harbaugh said he was hopeful that Mone would suit up for the top-10 matchup with Wisconsin.
If not, though, it appears as if Mone will be ready to go for the home stretch — or whenever called upon by his coaches.
“I’m trying to keep a positive energy throughout practice,” Mone said in August. “And not even just in practice — but on and off the field.”