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Friday, January 18, 2013
Depth chart analysis: Weak side linebacker

By Michael Rothstein

Over the next few weeks, WolverineNation will look at every position on the Michigan roster and give a depth chart analysis of each position on the roster heading into the offseason.

What happens with Michigan at weak side linebacker next season could be the key to the Wolverines’ flexibility at the position. While Desmond Morgan has been the starter for the majority of his career, holding off the now-departed Brandin Hawthorne in the process, he could be on the move after being pushed by someone younger behind him now.

It’s part of the nature of the evolution of a growing team, but whether it happens or now could be one of the more critical happenings this offseason for the Michigan defense.

The starter: Sophomore James Ross III. The Orchard Lake, Mich. product showed flashes throughout his freshman season of being a future big-time linebacker at Michigan. While he may not have the ideal height of a linebacker, Ross III has speed and by the end of the season was picking up the instincts needed to be an impact player. If he makes the requisite improvement during his first full offseason with the Wolverines, he could push junior Morgan inside or at the very least stay in his same role as last season spelling the starter.

James Ross
Look for sophomore James Ross to see an increased role, either as a starter or as the first reserve off the bench.
The depth: Morgan, freshman Ben Gedeon. Morgan is still the technical incumbent at the position, but with the departure of Kenny Demens, he could move to the middle, opening up a logical spot for Ross III while also being a backup to Ross III in case of injury since Michigan is very deep at middle linebacker. In some ways, moving Morgan inside could turn him into an every down linebacker depending on rotation. Gedeon is another player who has a lot of talent and could push for time his first year, but may end up redshirting to save eligibility and put some distance between him and Ross III. Redshirt sophomore Antonio Poole could land here as well.

The question mark: Is Ross III ready for a full time role? The projected improvement of Ross III could be the key to whatever Michigan does at linebacker next season. If it goes as planned, the Wolverines become incredibly deep and flexible at all three spots. If it doesn’t go as well, it likely means a couple of tough decisions for the Michigan coaching staff, but still not anything too bad. Ross III showed at points during his freshman year he would likely be ready for the bump up in playing time, especially when Morgan was out with injuries.

The bottom line: Yet another position of strength for Michigan, which has to be happy with its linebacking haul over the past couple of seasons. There is a possibility the Wolverines will lose only one linebacker after next season -- Cameron Gordon -- which means this group will have a chance to mature with each other. At some point, Ross III will end up on the field. The issue is whether that comes at the start of next season or toward the middle of it.