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Kris Ryan ran for 1,197 yards last season, but the junior back has yet to strap on a set of pads for the Red and Blue this year. (David Graff/The Daily Pennsylvanian)

Nearly a month ago, it was an almost-disaster. Two weeks ago, though, the cast came off. A couple days later, away went the crutches. Then, before Saturday's game, he was running and cutting on the turf of Franklin Field. And finally -- this afternoon -- Penn star running back Kris Ryan is scheduled to slip on his pads and rejoin his teammates for his first session of full-contact practice since suffering a high-ankle sprain in the preseason that left him confined to the Quakers sidelines through two pre-Ivy League games. "I'm excited about it," said Ryan, who led the Ivy League in rushing as a sophomore last year. "But I know that just getting over the injury isn't the end of it." Walking with an ever-so-slight limp that favors his left leg, Ryan realizes that he still needs some time to get himself ready for his first game. Time is quickly running out, however -- he's expected to play in Penn's Ivy home opener against Dartmouth this Saturday. So today it's time to get to business, and Ryan has a handful of points on his agenda. "I missed a lot of snaps, both [in] practice and game [situations]," Ryan said. "I've got to get back used to running the ball again, [and] getting used to getting hit and things like that. I have to get in better shape. "A lot of things came back quickly -- except for the explosion. It's like it's that one [recovering] tendon just keeps catching and catching. It's a pain in the butt." With work, the explosion should return for Ryan. Something that never left, though, is the aura that surrounds the current Penn running back who last season made Quakers fans almost forget Indianapolis Colts fullback and 1998 Bushnell Cup winner Jim Finn. Recovering ankle and all, opposing coaches still respect Ryan's abilities to truck his six-foot, 235-pound frame through their defensive lines, outspeed their secondaries and still drag everyone for a few extra yards if he's caught. Lafayette coach Frank Tavani paid homage to the Penn back after the Quakers -- sans Ryan -- beat his team, 45-28. "He's one of the greatest backs I've seen of all time," Tavani said. "I'm glad they had to save him for the Ivy League." While disappointed that he couldn't join them for the first two games of the season, Ryan's coaches and teammates are also happy that he'll be back for the Ivy kickoff. The junior co-captain should serve as an anchor to an already potent Penn offense that has tallied 55 points and 861 total yards in just two games this season. "I feel fortunate that I'll have [Ryan] and [reserve running back] Mike [Verille] to hand off to," Penn quarterback Gavin Hoffman said. "Then there's... numerous receivers who can make the play. "It makes my job a lot easier." Easing Ryan's transition back into Penn's running game was the play of Verille last weekend. The senior, who had never scored a touchdown while wearing the Red and Blue, treated the home crowd to three first-half rushing touchdowns en route to a 99-yard afternoon. With a highly skilled counterpart in the backfield, Ryan feels comfortable using more energy to focus on his recovery while sharing ground responsibilities with Verille. "I think initially, depending on how I feel, it's going to be a multi-back type thing because I know it's going to take me a while to get my legs back," Ryan said. "I'm going to take it one step at a time, because if I expect anything else I might disappoint myself."

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