In two short weeks, the San Diego Chargers will kick off their 2016 training camp. Ninety men will compete for 53 spots on the active roster while another ten will be assigned to the practice squad.
In our effort to familiarize the casual Chargers fan to names other than the ones we hear every day during the season, we spotlight the unheralded men who push the starters to be better every day, thus making the team better as a whole.
James Ross is a 6-foot-1, 232-pound inside linebacker from the University of Michigan. Ross was a four-year letterman for the Wolverines and was an All-Big Ten and All-America Bowl selection as a freshman in 2012. After his standout freshman season, he followed it up with an even more impressive sophomore campaign where he more than doubled his tackles (from 36 to 84), sacks (from .5 to 1.5) and tackles for loss (from 2.5 to 5.5).
In his four seasons, Ross accumulated 188 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two passes defensed and a fumble recovery. Despite his impressive statistics, a questionable decision by the Michigan coaching staff may have derailed his chances of having significantly greater statistics and possibly ruined his opportunity to be selected during the draft.
The staff moved Ross from inside linebacker to strong-side linebacker in his junior season coincided with a precipitous drop in his numbers across the board. Instead of chasing down ball carriers, his job became one of directing the ball carrier into the middle of the defensive line. Ross would log fewer tackles (67) in his final two seasons at Michigan than he had in his sophomore season alone(84).
Prior to the 2016 draft, Ross turned in a 40-yard dash time of 4.7 seconds and 22 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press.
Nearly one month after the draft, Ross signed on with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent. The Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions were all interested in bringing him to camp. He faces an uphill climb to make the Chargers’ roster, as he is one of six rookie linebackers trying to make the team. Linebacker is one of the few positions where the Bolts have an overabundance of talent.
Working to his advantage is his versatility. At his Pro Day, he also ran drills as a fullback where his ability to effectively use his hands and power translated well. In high school, Ross played tight end on offense; so he’s no stranger to catching the ball. Being able to move back to his natural position of inside linebacker, where he can play more instinctively, will also help him turn heads once camp begins.
May the best 53 men win.
Follow James on Twitter: @jross_iii
Good luck, Mr. Ross.
The Greg One