The Wolverine

August 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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AUGUST 2020 THE WOLVERINE 57 T he past year did not go as planned for Michigan redshirt junior linebacker Josh Ross. Last offseason, Ross was slated to be the breakout star of the line- backing corps in 2019 and offset the absence of consensus All-American Devin Bush Jr. by sliding from Will (weakside) to Mike (middle). Instead, Ross sputtered in his first three games before suffering a high- ankle sprain at Wisconsin that side- lined him for more than a month. He could have returned in Novem- ber, but given his redshirt was still available a decision was made to keep him out and preserve another year of eligibility. While Ross recovered and watched from afar, it was his re- placement — then-redshirt fresh- man Cameron McGrone — that became the leader of Michigan's linebackers and drew comparisons to Bush at Mike. McGrone posted 66 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and one forced fumble, and he was named as honorable mention All-Big Ten teams for his efforts. Due to Ross' absence much of last season, McGrone's emergence and the cancellation of spring ball com- pelled by COVID-19, Ross' name has become lost when Michigan football is discussed. This is a mistake. Why? Because Ross is set to have the 2020 season that he was ex- pected to have in 2019. Ross' early season struggles last year can primarily be attributed to his position change. It was the first time that he had played Mike, and he did not look as comfortable as he did at Will. He had to account for more in the middle, and this extra processing caused him to be a step slow. This was particularly the case with Ross' run defense, which was put to the test in Michigan's second and third contests against Army and Wisconsin, respectively. Against the Black Knights' triple-option offense, 31 of his 32 snaps were against the run, and before he went down with his injury against the Badgers, 15 of his 20 snaps were against the run. However, Army slowly marched down the field several times as only two of Ross' nine tackles were con- sidered offensive failures for Army, and Wisconsin racked up 359 rush- ing yards at 6.3 yards per pop. As a result, Ross' run defense grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) was only 44.6, which would have been 48th out of 49 Big Ten lineback- ers if he had played the minimum number of snaps. The experiment at Mike did not seem to be heading in the right di- rection. The good news for Michigan and Ross is that they do not need to test it any further. With McGrone set at Mike, Jordan Glasgow graduating and Devin Gil transferring, the Will spot is wide open again for Ross, and Ross should return to his top form at his former position. Whereas Ross was one of the worst Big Ten run defenders at Mike in 2019, he was in the upper tier from his Will spot in 2018. He received the 10th-best run defense grade from PFF (78.8) among the 52 Big Ten linebackers who quali- fied that season, and he was fifth among those coming back in 2019. If he had been given full duties rather than splitting time with Gil, his run- defending totals, such as tackles (61) and stops considered offensive fail- ures (24), would have been near the conference's leaders. Additionally, Will allows Ross to better exhibit one of his better traits: his pass rushing. Ross can be a threat on the edge. He registered 10 pressures on just 39 rushes in 2018, and PFF calculated his pass-rushing productivity — which is weighted towards sacks — to be 12.8. If Ross had been sent on enough rushes to qualify, his pass-rushing productiv- ity rating would have been fourth among Big Ten linebackers, just trailing Bush Jr. (15.7) and Khaleke Hudson (13.4). Put it all together, and Ross was graded as the 10th-best linebacker in the Big Ten in 2018. That is the player that Michigan will have at Will this season, and Ross will be even more experienced and wiser. According to a recent interview with MLive, he spent his time off the field learning how to better "sit back and watch the game of football from a different lens." He focused on the nuances of the posi- tion so he could reduce his number of missed assignments. Ross also told MLive that he is "itching" for the season, which should be no surprise. After he missed most of last year, he should be able to show he is the player that everyone expected him to be last season. He should prove that the Wolverines have more than one star at linebacker. And he should make sure that fans will not forget to mention him when discussing Michigan. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Josh Ross Will Resurge In Return Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Ross' return from injury, and a likely return to Will (weakside) linebacker, should put him back on the upward trajectory he appeared to be on during the 2018 cam- paign, when he was ranked as the 10th-best linebacker in the Big Ten. PHOTO BY BRANDON BROWN

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