"Yeah, I think I have something to prove," John Ryan said. "Sitting on the spring was also a good thing too, because you kind of got to step back and see how other guys practice. You see things the way coaches see things. You understand they're not just blowing smoke when they're yelling. And what they're saying really has deeper meaning. I realized what I had to do in the spring come this fall."
Although he was forced out of action, he took the opportunity and tried to put a positive spin on the experience. Having to watch all his teammates go through the drills almost made Ryan an assistant coach.
"Like I said, you see things you never see," Ryan said. "It's an eye-opening experience. And just with effort and little things, little details, it really helped me to contribute in the fall."
Ryan isn't the type to be making excuses or blowing his ailments out of proportion. When asked how he felt, he was quick to answer.
"I'm about one-hundred percent," Ryan said.
When he was asked about how his health was last season, the response was even swifter.
"About one-hundred percent," he rapidly responded
This attitude and determination is one of the main causes that Ryan has cracked the two-deep in the latest depth chart released earlier this week. Defensive line coach Jappy Oliver is very pleased with the progress Ryan has made.
"I think John has had a nice camp," Oliver said. "I really do. He started off slow, but then he started picking it up and now he's kind of fighting through a little grind here now we're at the point where you've got to push through. Just now finishing camp, guys are tired and kind of dragging a little bit. Now because he hasn't played a lot, he has built his body in this position where he's got to fight through these tough times, to get himself ready to play."
The fact that Ryan has been able to climb into the mix doesn't surprise Oliver at all, given that the St. Ignatius High School product has always had a style of play high in energy.
"That's what stood out from him his freshman year," Oliver said of Ryan's drive. "He's got a real nice motor. We had him on the left side behind Victor Abiamiri and the one thing I did see him doing, he was flying around after the football."
Oliver's hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end couldn't agree more — and it's something Irish fans can expect to see more of in the future.
"Yeah, I'd have to agree," he said. "It's something that you kind of pride yourself on. That's the way I've been raised to play and it's something I've always done and I'll always continue to do."
Defensive coordinator Corwin Brown has also seen some improvement, largely based on the playing experience Ryan has been able to accrue over his first two seasons with the program.
"I think he's older," Brown said. "Physically he's more mature, mentally of course, he's already a smart guy coming into it. So I think he's taken his experiences, last year being probably his biggest, and it's helped him this year understand things that he needs to do, his strengths, his weaknesses and understanding what we're asking him to do. That's good. He's a year older and that's always better."
Ryan also knows that this hands-on encounter on the field has aided in his development as a player.
"I think it was pretty valuable," Ryan said. "I just keep trying to build on experience. Obviously there were a lot of curveballs that you saw last year, and I've seen before, and hopefully when I see them this year, I'll be ready for them."
Part of the reason as to why head coach Charlie Weis has put Ryan in the two-deep is because of this experience, which has created a certain amount of depth at the position.
"What has happened in the past, we had one deep and really didn't get into playing anyone after that," Weis said. "So I could see those guys being interchangeable, ‘okay, you're in, you're in, you're in,' because we intend to be moving pretty good on defense and the one thing we haven't done is really done a great job of having the second-tier guys get significant reps and perform at a high rate to keep the first-line guys ready to go. So I think at both those positions we feel comfortable with either one of those ends, at either position, playing and not worrying about who's out there."
According to Ryan, this competition at the defensive end slot has helped motivate him even further.
"Yeah, I think so," he said in terms of the competition bringing out the best in everyone. "I think now we're a lot deeper than we've been in the past. A lot of good young guys are guys who have had a couple of years now in the system and know what they're doing. A lot of guys feel more comfortable being out there on the field than we have had in the past so that's a good thing."
Hearing Oliver speak about the situation, it is clear that he had absolutely no concerns regarding Ryan's determination to comeback into the fold.
"I can say I wasn't worried, because when you would talk to him, you could just sense it in his voice," Oliver said. "And he would never give me an indication that he wasn't coming back. He's still strong and the hunger is still solid, he just had to fight through the rehab."
Coach Oliver spoke about his experience with players who have always wanted to play through injuries and thinks that Ryan slowly realized how he should overcome the situation.
"A lot of times, the kids don't know the difference between being hurt and being injured," Oliver said. "If you're hurt, you're hurt and you go see a trainer. If you're injured, you have to fight through some of the pain and I think that's what he had to realize. I think he was hurt, and he had to go get it fixed."
Now that it is fixed, he's ready.
"I was out there," Ryan said. "If I'm putting my pads on, I'm going to be out there and I'm going to play. If I'm on the sidelines, then I'm on the sidelines, but if I'm out there, I'm not going to sit back and make any excuses, but I was out there and I was giving one-hundred percent effort."