|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
Ross was a mild disappointment last year. Lots of people picked him as a breakout defensive star in 2013 after a promising freshman season, but though he made plenty of tackles (a guy at his position in that defense was bound to), you never got the sense of him making a lot of PLAYS. He was not a disrupter or a high impact player. Whether he still can be is questionable at this point, but if he and guys like Bolden and Morgan can all step their games up just a notch, this will be a very good group. I'm still skeptical about RJS as well, after two years of doing very little, but he seems to be getting some buzz, so we'll see. If he's at least pushing Ross a little harder, that may be the most important thing he does.ReplyDelete
Can he be used at nickle?ReplyDelete
You need a defensive back at the nickel corner position. Ross isn't fast enough for that spot, and you need to be able to run man coverage on a receiver.Delete
Somewhat off-topic, I'm expecting the following players (with "replace-ability" in mind) to be the last ones in the countdown: Gardner, Funchess, Butt, and Wilson.ReplyDelete
I'm surprised about:
* Beyer: I've longed viewed him as a placeholder and I'm surprised that he's ranked much higher than his replacements.
* Clark: I suppose there's a decent gap between him and Mario O., but he's been inconsistent for a long time.
* Ross: I'd expect him to be lower and RJS to be higher.
* CBs: Given that they seem to be somewhat interchangeable (with guys like Lewis pushing last year's starters), I'm surprised they're not closer in ranking as a group.
* Offensive line: As with the CBs, I'd expect them to be more bunched, as the starters don't seem to be too secure.
That's all. Don't get me wrong -- plenty of rankings have made complete sense to me.
The thing about the defensive ends is that there's not much depth. Ojemudia is the only guy who has made any kind of plays, and Charlton/Poggi/Marshall really haven't done anything.Delete
I mostly agree that some of your top few guys are "indispensable." I think it's important for people to keep in mind that, well, SOMEBODY has to be ranked at #5-20. A lot of people seem to think that the linebackers are interchangeable, the offensive line is interchangeable, the defensive ends are interchangeable, the running backs are interchangeable, the cornerbacks are interchangeable... I guess perhaps I should have started the countdown at #110, left #6-20 blank, and then listed #1-5. I'm kidding, of course, but the point is simply that the #13 player on any team is not bound to be a world-beating superstar.
Debating this kind of stuff is half the fun of the countdown. To me, one reason the CBs have to be ranked higher than, say, a LB is that there isn't as much rotation. And, while there are nominally 2 starters at corner, there are often 3 or 4 on the field, and typically at the end of close games, that's the situation. To me, that makes them generally more important than LBs, where there is heavy rotation and a guy will get pulled against spread attacks and in passing situations.Delete
Last year, we lost PSU in part becuase we were throwing skinny freshman in against pros like Robinson. This year, if people stay healthy, we won't have to do that again.
Clark is important (top 5 IMO) because he represents a potential star. We don't have many of those on D (Jake Ryan, Blake Countess also). If he plays up to his talent he's the kind of player that will demand gameplanning attention. He hasn't done it consistently but he's shown flashes of it and consistently draws hype from practice observers and respect from his teammates.Delete
The OL is bunched, yeah, like LB. The difference is that we KNOW we have quality players in Morgan, Ross, Ryan. The fact that Bolden, RJS, and Gedeon are pushing for playing time is good news, but they are luxuries. For OL we desperately need these guys to pan out in a way that we don't for LB. The uncertainty makes them more important from the countdown's perspective because their success/failure affects the team more.
The thing that keeps Butt out of the top 5 (IMO) is that he was hurt. He's not going to be able to play up to his potential while being held back by health. We saw that from Ryan last year. He still matters a great deal, but his upside is limited.
I've heard two comments from guys who get to see some practice and training.ReplyDelete
One, Ross struggles to hold 220 lbs and likely started games last year at under 215 and maybe as low as 212.
Two, both Ross and RJS are flying around and popping people and that there are no worries at SAM.
That's nice to hear and sounds believeable.Delete
That said, you have to take into account the OL they are facing in practice is a lot less likely to be combo-blocking/LB-seeking machines than the units they'll face during the season.
Ian Gold was on the 'small' side but he made a name for himself by alluding blockers and anticipating where ball carriers were coming. I just haven't seen enough of that from Ross yet, although he has the potential.Delete
Smaller LB's can definitely be effective, especially in college. But they have to be quick mentally and physically. Ross still has not shown his quick reactions that made his rep in HS. And although others are pointing out that he has trouble taking on OL straight up, he also did not look comfortable in space last year either, especially in coverage. Hopefully the game slows down for him this year.Delete
I think Ross has shown quick reactions plenty of times. His production was solid. He just needs to elude blocks more consistently. One would expect him to get better and when he does he could be the player people were expecting a year ago.Delete
If Ross disappointed you, your expectations were irrational. He had a promising freshman year and last year developed into a reliable starter. He has two more years and is on track to be an all conference player.ReplyDelete
RJS was a talented recruit too, so his emergence from irrelevance doesn't come as a shock, but I would be surprising if he surpassed Ross. If they rotate, that would be a good sign for Michigan because Ross has proven to be a quality player. If he continues to evolve and improve his game he will have a very nice career for Michigan.
Ross and Clark got overhyped last year. That's not a reason to be critical of them, that's a reason to keep your expectations in check. This year's top candidates for being overhyped include Funchess, Darboh, Braden, Heitzman, Henry, Lewis. Most will probably be good to very good but a few won't meet the lofty expectations relative to production.
I thought he played well as a freshman, and improved significantly as the year went on. That's why a lot of fans expected a breakout in year two. But come sophomore year, he moved sideways or possibly backwards. That's where the talk of disappointment comes from. I like the fact that he is working with GMatt this year. And now that UM has a good DL, he may have more room to work with in '14.Delete
His production more than doubled in his sophomore year. Obviously stats don't tell the whole story, but the idea that he got worse doesn't seem rational to me. Maybe relative to expectations he got worse, but that doesn't mean he did so objectively.Delete
Sorry, I am just going on what I saw. I thought he was reacting pretty quickly towards the end of his freshman year. But he looked tentative as a sophomore. And he got benched a couple times in the middle and end of the season, and it was more for mental than physical. The key stats with LB's (especially undersized LB's) is TFL's. I think he wound up with five last year. For a guy who played a ton and is supposed to be a Larry Foote / Ian Gold type, that's not great.Delete
You also have to look at the defensive line in front of him. It's tough to get tackles for loss if the OL can release immediately to the second level. Michigan did not have a very good defensive line last year with Pipkins out part of the time, Washington playing worse than he did in 2012, and Ryan Glasgow seeing lots of time at NT. Henry was a bright spot, and Wormley was okay, but the interior defensive line was average as a whole.Delete
You're saying he 'got benched' in 2013 but his playingtime skyrocketed compared to 2012. He went backup to starter, from playing behind Desmond Morgan to starting beside him. Demens leaving had something to do with that, but now Ross is going to start (probably) and Morgan may not.
I think "what you saw" is being heavy influenced by what you WANTED to see.
I'm not saying the guy was perfect but it wasn't just his tackles that went up but also his TFL, FF, etc. Thunder is right to point out context, but regardless of the DL changes Ross took on a much bigger role and had an objectively better and more productive season than he did as a freshman.
Nice writeup again. The quality and consistency is high this year. Good work and ThanksReplyDelete
I'm excited by the fact that we've reached this high in the countdown and I still haven't seen a player that I look at and go, "if he goes down, we're screwed." I feel like that's been much more prevalent in this series throughout the starting spots the last few years.ReplyDelete
Yeah, by that criteria alone, probably Wile would be the biggest hit.Delete
Thunder - after watching the scrimmage and some practice time - who do you see as the top 3 LB's? And do you think the coaches will get all three on the field at the same time?ReplyDelete
I didn't watch the scrimmage. From what I've pieced together, I believe the top three linebackers will be Joe Bolden, Jake Ryan, and James Ross. And yes, I think they will play together quite a bit.Delete