ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The name “James Ross” rolled off Jim Harbaugh’s lips without hesitation. The Michigan coach was talking about some of the freshman players who have stood out through the first two weeks of camp and will have a chance to play this season, and Ross earned a mention.
“James Ross is really playing well,” Harbaugh said.
Uh, coach, don’t you mean “Josh Ross”?
“Josh Ross,” said Harbaugh, standing corrected. “I call him James half the time. To his face.”
James Ross is Josh’s older brother, a former Michigan linebacker whose senior season of 2015 was Harbaugh’s first at the helm the Wolverines. Josh Ross is one of three linebackers in this year’s freshman class along with Drew Singleton and Jordan Anthony. If he reminds those who played with or coached his older brother, that’s not a bad thing.
There’s a story of James Ross pancaking an offensive lineman in his first practice as a freshman. Josh seems to be developing a similar reputation.
“Oh, yeah, a lot of people are calling him James,” fifth-year senior Mike McCray said about Josh Ross. “We called James ‘Biggs.’ I call [Josh Ross] Baby B.
“They’re really similar in the way they talk, the way they walk, run, everything. He’s probably a little more athletic than James, but they’re really identical. You can see it in the way they play.”
Josh Ross is 6-foot-2, 221 pounds and, like his older brother, plays middle linebacker. Singleton (6-2, 213) and Anthony (6-0, 235) are outside linebackers. They also are making a positive impression.
“They’re impressive. They lay that wood, I can say that,” Michigan sophomore running back Chris Evans said. “Ross lays that wood, and Anthony, Singleton, they all came in. … I don’t even want to imagine what they were doing to kids in high school. The way they hit now, I don’t know what they were doing in high school to people.
“They’re going to make you feel it, for real.”
McCray, sophomore Devin Bush, and redshirt junior Noah Furbush are at the top of the linebacker depth chart. Sophomore Khaleke Hudson is the front-runner at viper, a hybrid safety-linebacker position utilized by defensive coordinator Don Brown. The early returns indicate the freshmen will contribute on the field this season.
McCray didn’t play his freshman season in 2013. He missed the 2015 season with a shoulder injury, but after playing all 13 games last season, he is the lone returning starter on defense.
Asked if he could see himself in this crop of freshmen, he agreed.
“Jordan Anthony kind of has the same demeanor,” McCray said. “He doesn’t really talk a lot. He’s a laid-back guy but when he hits the field, he goes hard every play. Pretty much all of the freshman linebackers are like that. They’re pretty quiet, laid-back guys. They save it for the field where they give it everything they’ve got.”