All name joshing aside, Ross fortifies Michigan's linebacking corps

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — They got the name right when Michigan’s Josh Ross entered the game for injured middle linebacker Devin Bush in the season opener at Notre Dame, but that’s not usually the case.

Josh Ross just rolls with it if he is mistakenly called "James" by coach Jim Harbaugh.

James Ross. James Ross. James Ross.

It probably echoes in his head because that’s typically what Josh Ross gets called.

“All the time,” he said Tuesday night, laughing.

James Ross is the older brother who played four seasons for the Wolverines (2012-2015) and is a defensive analyst on coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff.

“If coach Harbaugh calls me 'James,' I just go along with it and let it ride,” he said. “We got called twins. It’s so many things. I get called James every day, but it is what it is. He’s short and fat and I’m a little bit more built.”

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All joking aside, Josh Ross is making a name for himself. He spent preseason camp working at both the Mike and Will, and was in a “fistfight” with Devin Gil, as defensive coordinator Don Brown termed it this camp, for a starting job.

When Bush went out of the game with leg cramps, Ross took over at middle linebacker. He finished with five tackles.

“What went through my mind is I’ve got to step up at his position and play just like he would,” Ross said of his mindset when he went in for Bush. “I wanted to step up and make the same impact as he would make. When he went down, I said, ‘OK, let’s go. I’ve got to come in. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.’”

During spring practice and the offseason and during camp, Ross has picked Bush’s brain learning as much as he can from the player Harbaugh has called one of the best linebackers he’s ever seen.

Ross took advantage of learning both linebacker spots during camp and said the challenge only made him better and sharper.

“Playing Mike linebacker versus Will, Mike is more of a position where you have to take the place of other backers,” he said. “You’ve got to fill certain gaps when we’re switching all that type of stuff, so you’re more in the box. Will, we’re kind of out of the box a little bit more. It’s more of doing a job, and Mike you can be more of a ballplayer. You can go from tackle to tackle instead of being on one side of the ball.

“It’s definitely a challenge. I would say, though, what helped me out a lot was playing Will before I learned Mike. They’re interchangeable positions but at the same time they’re different. Learning Will allows me to kind of know certain situations I can be in at the Mike to a certain degree. It was challenging, but I’m so glad I did it because it helped me out so much learning everything.”

He said playing in the middle “fits well” for him, but he has no preference.

“I prefer any position I can play out there and help the team,” Ross said.

Ross said Bush has been practicing this week for the home opener against Western Michigan, but Ross likely will see playing time.

Michigan’s defense gave up 21 first-half points in the 24-17 loss and said the defense wasn’t nervous but made mistakes that are not typical of the group. The reversed the trend in the second half allowing on 69 yards and three points.

With the Wolverines at 0-1, criticism from the fanbase has been loud. But the players aren’t listening.

“Our main thing, we’re blocking all that out,” he said. “Everything is still in front of us. We just have to go get it. We’ve got to fight and get better every day.”