Spring practice is kicking off around the Big Ten, and we’re taking a look at one potential breakout player for each team. We’re spotlighting players who could take a major step during spring ball, so those who have started multiple seasons or earned All-Big Ten recognition in 2012 aren’t eligible.
Next up: the Michigan Wolverines.
James Ross III, LB, sophomore, 6-foot-1, 225 pounds
It looks like Michigan's linebacking corps are in very good hands for the foreseeable future. Jake Ryan emerged as a star during his sophomore campaign, while rising junior Desmond Morgan and rising sophomore Joe Bolden should be mainstays in the rotation.
It's possible that Ross might have the highest ceiling of them all. He made two starts last year as a true freshman when Morgan was injured, and he made a team-high 12 tackles in the Nov. 17 win over Iowa. He showed lots of promise as a ball-seeking missile at weakside linebacker; a full offseason of weight training should help him be more prepared to shed blockers and go head-to-head with the Big Ten's most bullish running backs (guys like Mark Weisman and Carlos Hyde). It's going to be awfully hard to push Morgan out of the starting lineup, but a big spring by Ross could convince the coaching staff to move Morgan to middle linebacker.
Michigan has several players who could break out this spring, including some young linemen on both sides and those at receiver. But Ross might have the best combination of talent and opportunity, and steady spring progress from him would further empower what is arguably already the Wolverines' strongest position.