Michigan Football Preview 2013

2013 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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"Bigs" Man O n C ampus James Ross III Is Prepping For A Breakthrough Campaign J By John Borton ames Ross III remembers his first encounter with Michigan's defensive playbook like a pilot recalling his first solo flight — it was both exciting and daunting at the same time. He sat in a sequestered fall training camp room with veteran linebacker Kenny Demens, staring at what looked like a Tom Clancy novel, rather than a compilation of moves to fight a different sort of battle. "It was a big old playbook," Ross said, his eyes widening at the memory. "When you're coming from high school, you're not ready for that. "We also had summer classes on top of it. I was like, oh man, I've got a long way to go. I'm sitting on the end of the bed, writing down all of this stuff I need to do so I can get it in my head." Had Ross, known to his teammates as "Bigs," been a run-of-the-mill rookie, the urgency meter might not have been spiking into the red. But he wasn't, and he had a lot more on his mind than merely putting on the helmet and soaking up the Michigan Stadium atmosphere from the sidelines. He planned to be on the field. He anticipated making an impact in the most literal sense. That meant Ross wasn't interested in skimming over details. He needed to dive in with the commitment of a Polar Plunge contestant. "I didn't want to be just a freshman where they said, 'Oh, we've got to try to get him involved and teach him,'" Ross recalled. "I wanted to go in trying to play early. That was my mindset. "I didn't want to be the guy messing up. I wanted to be the guy they could count on. I knew I wasn't starting, but I knew we had a rotation, and I knew when I was called on, they were expecting me to do something." Ross did plenty, especially for a rookie linebacker. He notched 36 tackles as a backup inside linebacker who broke through for a pair of starts. He posted 2.5 tackles for loss and showed serious promise — some of which didn't show up until further review. Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has demanded more playmaking out of Michigan's things very quickly and is intelligent. He understands what you're trying to teach, and brings a lot of athleticism to the field." Ross also brings a self-effacing easiness to the assessment of where he's been and where he's going. Statistically, his best game from his rookie season involved a 12-tackle game against Iowa, in which he recorded nine solos versus the Hawkeyes. Ross smiles over that one, instead recalling from it his worst moment as a Michigan rookie. "I saw a guy coming, and he still pancaked me," he cautioned. "That was the worst moment I've ever had." It also fed into the maturation process for a 6-1, 223-pound inside linebacker whose size had never before been an issue on the football field. "I was able to do whatever I wanted in high school," Ross said. "Being in college, you've got oversized linemen, and they can put their hands on you, and you can't get off. "I had to learn how to play with those bigger guys. I learned my size was somewhat of an extra benefit, me being smaller and quicker than those guys. I'm able to get around them, and they're not able to move as fast as I can." Ross discovered that learning to play at the Big Ten level involved way more than knowing the playbook inside and out. He needed to use his strengths, and over the course of a season, he became increasingly adept at doing so. "He recognizes things very quickly and is intelligent. He understands what you're trying to teach and brings a lot of athleticism to the field." Linebackers coach Mark Smith on Ross linebackers, and Ross qualifies as a playmaker. According to U-M linebackers coach Mark Smith, a review of the video clips from the 2012 season bears that out. Ross kept emerging, again and again, as someone who put himself in the right place at the right time. Preparation plus perspiration equaled penetration, in this instance — the rookie established himself as one to watch. The buzz only grew during the spring, when observers noted the sophomore — who earned All-Big Ten Freshman honors from both ESPN.com and BTN.com — wears well the playmaker mantle. "He's very instinctive and very fluid when he moves around the field," Smith observed. "Is he the fastest guy out there? No, not really, if you want to run a 40-yard dash. "But he plays football fast. He recognizes 142  ■  The Wolverine 2013 Football Preview Ross recalled the Nov. 10 cliffhanger win over Northwestern as a turning point for him. "I finally could see myself getting it," he said. "I know I wasn't completely there, but I was getting comfortable. It was like, okay, now I'm feeling it. I'm liking what I'm doing, and I see the speed being used in my game in the Northwestern game." Ross also saw the goal he and his dad, James Ross, set prior to the season come to fruition. The younger Ross was still a rookie, but he was a player, getting on the field and contributing in significant ways. The elder Ross, a supervisor for Chrysler Last season, in his true freshman campaign, Ross made two starts, notched 36 tackles and posted 2.5 tackles for loss, with his best outing being a 12-tackle game against Iowa. Photo By Per KJeldsen

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