There are many uncertainties surrounding college football right now. The 2020 season is still in jeopardy, and even if a season does occur it will do so likely in empty stadiums with a conference-only schedule. Still, it is never too early to take a look at the Michigan depth chart and the players slated to contribute whenever football does resume. Join us as we comb through the roster and answer key questions heading into this fall.
Josh Ross, redshirt JR
247 Composite Ranking: 4 stars (ILB 9, Overall 211)
2019 Stats: 18 tackles
It is never easy to replace a top-10 draft pick, but Michigan was not left completely dry at the middle linebacker spot upon Devin Bush’s departure after the 2018 season. Up next looked to be Josh Ross, a four-star prospect who looked destined to fill the role at some point in his career. After a backup role as a sophomore, it was all systems go to start 2019.
Unfortunately, things did not exactly go to plan. Ross started out at the Mike role and made a few okay performances before missing basically the rest of the year due to injury. He is now healthy and ready to contribute again, but will likely do so from the Will spot instead, as Cameron McGrone seems to have locked down the middle. A big year from Ross would go a long way for the Michigan defense.
Is Ross ready to jump back into the starting lineup after missing most of 2019?
The story of a backup player springing into action due to injury and never giving the job back is a tale as old as time, and unfortunately Ross is its latest victim. McGrone entered last season with minimal expectations, but when he got his opportunity he looked like a player that can never be taken off the field again. This is obviously a net positive for the Wolverines, but it does mean there will have to be some shuffling.
The most logical move would be to put Ross at the weakside linebacker spot, somewhere he spent time as a sophomore in a backup capacity. He is a certain middle linebacker and this transition should be fairly seamless. If he can produce at the levels coaches expected from him in 2019, the Wolverines will have a pretty strong duo at the center of the defense.
Ross is not as off-the-charts athletic as some as his peers, but he does have a great skill set for the position. He is tenacious and moves downhill aggressively, ready to take on blocks, ball carriers, and blitz when necessary. He is not the best coverage linebacker but he should be able to keep up well enough with opposing running backs when required. Really, the goal is putting him in position to hit and tackle.
Getting Ross back is a nice win for the defense, as the other two-ish linebacker spots will be filled by younger players with less experience. Now, he will get to line up next to McGrone, who showed tons of ability and intelligence on the field last season. The two should work well together, and it might be for the best that Ross can play the Will, as McGrone has a little more versatility and athleticism. Expectations will still be high, though, as many will remember Ross as a player who received plenty of attention last offseason.