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Friday, March 8, 2013
Five to watch in spring: LB James Ross III

By Michael Rothstein

James Ross
James Ross III has a chance to play a bigger role in 2013 for Michigan.
Over the next week, WolverineNation will give a brief look at five players to keep an eye on during spring practice for varying reasons.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Throughout last season, he showed flashes of potential and production whenever he was given the opportunity. It could have been spelling one of Michigan’s linebackers in a game or a full-on start when Desmond Morgan missed games due to injury.

Now, James Ross III has a chance to spend the offseason proving his role should be expanded in his second season with Michigan. More than any other linebacker in the two-position shuffle opened due to the graduation of middle linebacker Kenny Demens, Ross has the potential to be the biggest difference maker as to where everyone else plays in the fall.

It is why he is the No. 3 player to watch this spring in the midst of one of the most talent-filled position battles Michigan has had in a long time.

Why Ross III? At his size, Ross III will likely never play middle linebacker. But if he were to beat out the incumbent Morgan for the spot at the WILL, it could push Morgan inside and into a position battle with sophomores Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone for the man in the middle. No other linebacker, theoretically, has that kind of power on shaping the middle of Michigan’s defense next season. Add to that, he showed immense promise as a freshman with his speed and instincts to be around the ball.

What does he have to accomplish? Win the job. If he doesn’t, all of this ends up for naught as he would likely fall into a similar role as last season. He played a decent amount of snaps as a freshman when Greg Mattison tried to rotate his linebackers throughout the game to keep them fresh, making 36 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. That was the most of any non-regular starter last season. Winning this job isn’t an easy task, either, as Morgan is a two-year starter who has turned into a reliable piece of Michigan’s emerging defense. The bigger question would be if the two are equal, what would happen as Morgan is a decent candidate for the middle due to his intelligence. This versatility could add another dimension to Mattison’s defense.