The Michigan Wolverines were expecting to have one of the best defenses in the Big Ten next season thanks to a deep and talented stable of linebackers, led by Jake Ryan. With Ryan’s ACL injury, however, that depth took a major hit and Michigan lost one of its best playmakers on defense. Now, someone else will have to step up into that playmaking void if Michigan still hopes to succeed in 2013 and sophomore linebacker James Ross is ready to step up.
Ross nearly pushed his way into the starting lineup last season as a true freshman, applying pressure behind junior Desmond Morgan. Wolverine coaches have raved about Morgan’s ability since he got to campus, but Ross was just that good, forcing the staff to consider finding ways to get him onto the field. Ross appeared in all 13 games last season, starting a few when Morgan was slowed by injury, and made 36 tackles, including 2.5 for loss and half a sack.
The solution this season looks to be finding a way to have both Ross and Morgan on the field at the same time. That has resulted in Morgan starting at middle linebacker in spring practice to replace the graduated Kenny Demens and leaving Ross as the weakside linebacker. Morgan’s experience and bulkier frame make him a better fit in the middle while Ross’ athleticism and instinctual playmaking give him the tools to be a breakout star next fall.
And Michigan will need him to do just that. Without Ryan, the Wolverines will have to come up with a new source for disruption in the offensive backfield. While defensive coordinator Greg Mattison can design pressure as well as anyone in the Big Ten, having a go-to playmaker coming off the edge will be a huge boost to the Michigan defense while Ryan recuperates.
When one playmaker falls, college football teams have to find the next guy to step up. With Jake Ryan on the sidelines for a major chunk of next season, is James Ross the next linebacker star for the Wolverines?