|James Ross III (#15)|
Weight: 227 lbs.
High school: Orchard Lake (MI) St. Mary's
Jersey number: #15
Last year: I ranked Ross #6 and said he would be the starting will with 90 tackles and 2 sacks. He made 85 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery.
For a starter who nearly led the team in tackles, Ross was disappointing to some fans in 2013. The three-man rotation at the inside linebacker spots eventually grew to include four men, and Ross started just nine games. He had 8+ tackles in five games, including a career-high 13 against Northwestern. And yet. Listed at a generous 6'1" and at roughly 220 lbs., it seemed at times that Ross was a little light and taking the hits rather than giving them. We know that he can hit hard - we just have to watch practice videos of him lighting up ball carriers and blockers. When Saturdays roll around, though, Ross just seems to play a tiny bit slower and a tiny bit less aggressively.
This year Ross faces a new challenge. He was moved to SAM linebacker in Michigan's 4-3 Over defense, where he will regularly be lining up over the tight end. He will also be fighting something familiar: competition. Junior Royce Jenkins-Stone bounced to SAM from middle linebacker, and he has reportedly taken to his new role. Michigan's current coaching staff has constantly rotated linebackers, so Jenkins-Stone will probably see plenty of playing time. But I have long been fond of Ross's abilities to read and react. The key this season will be to see how he deals with big bodies being thrown at him on the strong side, such as an offensive tackle on zone runs or a fullback on a zone read or a tight end blocking down on a power. Hopefully Ross can be a little quicker and a little more aggressive in his third year, but the tools are there to be all-conference.
Prediction: Starting SAM linebacker; 90 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3 sacks