|Orchard Lake, MI – 6'0", 209|
|Scout||4*, #7 OLB, #83 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #14 OLB, #172 overall|
|ESPN||4*, 80, #8 ILB|
|24/7||4*, 95, #6 ILB, #116 overall|
|Other Suitors||OSU, PSU, Notre Dame, USC, Nebraska|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Tim. Tim interviews him at SMSB. Ace checks out OLSM games against De La Salle and UD-Jesuit.|
|Notes||OLSM (Chris McLaurin, Jermaine Gonzalez). Army All-American.|
James Ross is the second of three highly-touted Westside Cubs who will arrive at Michigan at the fall. Terry Richardson was the first, and Ross is an awful lot like a linebacker version of Richardson. He's four of four on Midwest power offers, four of four when it comes to recruiting site hype, and got a bid to one of the all-star games.
Like Richardson, the scouting reports are a series of good things… after they get in a shot at his size. Random example($):
Ross made plays in high school thanks to his instincts and quickness, rather than his size. He'll get the chance to show that being slightly undersized won't hurt him at the next level when he faces off against the all-star cast from the East.
They're not wrong. Six-foot-ish is a bit wee when it comes to linebacking, and edging just over 200 pounds is something that may prevent him from seeing the field immediately. FWIW, he says he's put on more weight:
"I'm 6'1'' and 225 lbs. right now, and a lot of criticism I get is because of my size. But I always like to throw this out there: my favorite two linebackers, Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis, are only 6'1". I guess this sport has come down to where it's all about size, but I feel that at the end of the day, that doesn't matter. "
But the instincts bit is promising. Think of various weakside linebackers past—just about any will do—and imagine the exact opposite of their relationship with your frustration, and that is James Ross's rep. His coach sums it up best($):
"He's one of the best instinctive players I've ever coached," Porritt insisted. "He reads plays so fast, and his first step is so explosive. He's physical, too, but it's his uncanny ability to read and get after the football that is his greatest asset. He's a great young man who works hard and is very humble."
This will of course be tested when he hits the field at the next level. Please do not refer back to this post in the event he turns out to also take the wrong side of the fullback 800% of the time. Please do in the event his instincts lead to a lot of plays like this:
The instincts bit is repeated in other scouting reports. Ace:
I'll reiterate what I said when I saw Ross earlier this season—he's the most polished, college-ready prospect I've seen play this season with the possible exceptions of Aaron Burbridge and Matt Godin (to clarify, I'm not necessarily saying the most talented, but the players who are the most fundamentally sound and impactful right now). …
Once again, Ross's ability to tackle in the open field really impressed me—he has great tackling form, and his superior range allows him to be in the best possible position to stop the ballcarrier. He diagnosed plays quickly and never seemed out of position, and his ability to make quick reads allowed him to shoot past blockers before they could even touch him, resulting in multiple tackles for loss. Ross isn't afraid to take on a block and does a good job of shedding after initial contact without losing his angle on the ballcarrier….
After seeing Ross in two games, one against a weak Inkster team and the other against a much stronger De La Salle squad, I'm convinced he'll be a multi-year starter at middle linebacker and a player in the David Harris mold.
Although we detect some hip tightness when in coverage his balance and agility along with the ability to quickly key and diagnosis running plays allows him to be a dominant run stopper. We like his instincts and quick downhill play; can beat blockers to the point of attack with good playing speed or take on and defeat them with his upper body playing strength. This guy is a tough customer who has no problem stepping into the line and mixing it up with big offensive linemen; does a great job moving through traffic, showing excellent pursuit habits and recovery speed.
They do knock his current weight and express doubts about his ability to cover receivers in man; they praise his zone instincts. Trieu:
Smart, instinctive backer who does a great job of taking plays head on, getting rid of blockers and finding the ball. Measureables are not super, but football smarts, toughness and fundamentals are. Does a solid job in coverage, and is physical when asked to cover backs and tight ends. More of a finished product, than an upside guy, but a kid who has always been productive and should continue to be so in college.
24/7's Barton Simmons:
Though he's not a kid with great size, Ross is a kid with great instincts, awareness, and desire to get to the football. When he gets there he's physical and in the pass game, he's comfortable catching the football and finding throwing lanes. Ross is very similar in skill set to Oklahoma State's Shaun Lewis who made an instant impact on the college level.
Simmons again, this time from the OSU NFTC last year:
Headlining the group in Columbus was Michigan commit James Ross out of West Bloomfield (Mich.) St. Mary’s Prep. Sporting a Michigan hat on the Ohio State practice fields, Ross already looked ready to strap on the pads and head into Ohio Stadium. At 6-1, Ross is not an overpowering presence but his feet, balance, athleticism and activity in space were all unique. Ross was nearly unblockable in the pass rush drill and he also has the ability to run and cover in the pass game.
You get the idea. He is a ball-locator and tackler. He is not a five-star athlete.
As mentioned in a UV posted a couple weeks ago, Ross credits his time as a hockey player for his ability to diagnose plays:
“I actually think hockey is what separates me from most linebackers,” Ross said. “I think it helped me with that first quick step and getting to the ball as fast as you can, because hockey, once you see it you have to go. There is no delayed step into it. That’s definitely something that separates me.”
Despite Ross's friendship with Richardson and Royce Jenkins-Stone, the third Westside Cub in the class, it was actually Ohio State who seemed like the leader out of the gate. From a now-vaporized Sam Webb article in the News:
Ross Jr. might have been more taken aback by his impression of Michigan. Not because it was better, but because it so utterly different from what he expected.
"I really did not like Michigan like that," Ross admitted. "I was always an Ohio State guy. I kept it to myself. It really wasn't that big of a deal. My family always gets mad when I bring up Ohio State. They just say that I do not understand the success that Michigan has had."
Ross was just a sophomore when that article was published, but he'd picked up Michigan and MSU offers super early, something that was notable, uh, two years ago. Not so much now.
Whatever Ross's feelings about OSU were, his recruitment was effectively over when Michigan hired Greg Mattison. From an old Tom weekly roundup post:
He fell in love with coach Mattison. I never paid attention early on to coordinators that much, but that guy was great. He was kinda funny too. He and coach Hoke broke it all open for him. We were there close to three hours just talking about football with Mattison, and more conversation with Hoke. Hoke's like a good ole boy, it was refreshing.
That was at the end of Febuary; it took a couple more months to come to a decision but that was basically it. (The commit turned this Buckeye Planet thread into an excellent schadenfreude repository, FWIW.)
With the burden of Ross's decision off his shoulders, OLSM shot to a state title. Ross championed the defense, tackling everything that moves. He racked up a ridiculous 151 tackles and 13.5 TFLs along the way. Rivals named him to their "RivalsHigh 2011 All-American Team" as a result. His recruiting rankings didn't shift much; his performance was about what people expected.
At Michigan Ross is ticketed for the weakside, though this is where I say the usual bits about how there are only minor differences between the MLB and the WLB in Mattison's system. The WLB has to be a little better down the seam and gets a little more protection from lead blockers, but it's mostly the same gig as MLB.
"He never wants to be the guy who someone sees at a game and says, 'This guy's supposed to be all that? He's kinda crappy' " Ross, Sr. said. "He never wants to be that guy, so he strives to give everyone what they expect and more. He's looking to go bananas this year."
Why Ian Gold? As an inside linebacker who topped out around 6'0" and 225 but made it work with great instincts and an ability to cut through traffic, Ian Gold is a tight fit as a YMRMFSPA. His career was before I watched every game in extreme detail, though.
Gold came to Michigan as a tailback but was moved quickly; Ross has an edge when it comes to experience. He'll do very well to match Gold's productivity and NFL pedigree—a second rounder with almost 500 career tackles.
If you want a guy of more recent vintage, the Mini David Harris suggestion offered by Ace above is a good one.
Guru Reliability: High. General consensus, healthy, multi-year starter, well-known kid who showed at an all-star game.
Variance: Low. Projects to (basically) same position in college, lots of experience, ahead of the curve mentally.
Ceiling: Moderate. Size will be an issue and the scouting reports don't mention the sort of "wow" athleticism that could make up for that.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Seems like he'll be the platonic opposite of Jonas Mouton, the Janus of weakside linebackers. Mouton alternated ridiculously good and ridiculously bad plays. Ross probably won't turn in as many of either. A solidly above-average Big Ten linebacker who is short of national stardom seems like the most likely outcome.
Projection: Ross's lack of size and a healthy depth chart at WLB (which returns rising sophomore Desmond Morgan, senior Brandin Hawthorne, and adds redshirt freshman Antonio Poole) suggest a redshirt. Like Richardson, it seems smart to get him a second year of separation from guy who started as a freshman. Unlike Richardson, there's a lot of room on special teams for linebackery tackling types, so he may get drafted into coverage teams for one of those Argh Wasted Redshirt wasted redshirts.
Either way, there's a clear path to the two-deep in his second year. Hawthorne and Demens will graduate. The former opens up the backup WLB spot and there's a chance the latter will drag Morgan to MLB, which seems like a more natural position for him. Even if that doesn't happen, Ross will be fighting with Poole for a good chunk of playing time behind Morgan. I wouldn't put it past Ross to win the job outright at some point, either. If he gets the redshirt dollars to donuts he's at least a two-year starter.