Josh Ross is showing the world how to list like UDFA. Can he finish his preseason on a high note and make the Ravens roster?

When the Baltimore Ravens drafted David Ojabo out of the University of Michigan, it was a heartwarming story on multiple levels. Ojabo, a projected first-round pick, suffered a serious Achilles tendon injury that left a cloud of uncertainty over where he would ultimately land. The Baltimore Ravens swooped in and selected Ojabo with the 45th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, stopping his slide. Beyond that, Ravens first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald was Ojabo’s defensive coordinator at Michigan last year. Macdonald called Ojabo to inform him that he would be joining him in Baltimore.

The Ravens drafting Ojabo made a lot of sense. If any team had a better chance of integrating a player into their defense quickly considering an injury, it would be the same defense Ojabo put together last fall. The draft came and went. 256 players were selected. Some of those who weren’t drafted, like any other year, got phone calls from multiple teams, or maybe just one team. In the case of Josh Ross, like Ojabo, his old friend Mike Macdonald called to bring him to Baltimore.

Ross wasn’t a first-round prospect like Ojabo was before the injury. He didn’t put up flashy numbers at the combine. However, he captained the Wolverines for two years and quietly earned third-team All-Big Ten honors alongside Ojabo, All-American Aidan Hutchinson and first-round pick Daxton Hill. Ross racked up more than 100 tackles and helped lead Michigan to its first Big Ten title in more than a decade.

The 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker didn’t get a lot of notoriety from Baltimore reporters during OTA or training camp. His name wasn’t mentioned often, if at all, until the Ravens’ first preseason game. Ross ran a 40-stroke time of 4.79, didn’t jump particularly well, and only one metric really stood out (Ross’s 10-yard split 1.60 ranked as the 85th percentile for inside linebackers in combine history). Ross, however, has had a succinct lead. Like Ojabo, Ross feels comfortable and familiar defending Macdonald.

The 23-year-old linebacker has put a to show technically savvy, confident and near-perfect linebacker game in the Ravens’ first two preseason games. The best play to sum up Ross’ efficiency was his first play against the Cardinals in the Ravens’ second preseason game. The Cardinals ran an inside fast break play, the right guard appeared to lose his assignment. Ross shot into space and had the ball carrier wrapped up when he took his first step after the trade. Ross has been reading runs and passes extremely well, having the confidence to open up and maximize his speed to run the read from him and hasn’t missed an inning in two games.

Within that clip, Ross chased down former Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley and hit him under the pylon, saving a touchdown and allowing the Ravens to get a defensive stoppage in the series. He has also been an expert in the passing game. While he isn’t the most fluid athlete in coverage, he has physically interrupted routes on hook drops as he moves on to his next read as route combinations are shown. Several major media outlets have taken notice of how well Ross has played.

With the Ravens’ preseason ending against the Washington Commanders, Ross should get a chance to play nearly as many snaps as he did in the first two games (42). Special teams are also a key component of what drives a UDFA to put together a 53-man roster. If Ross is able to do just a big game on special teams, the Ravens will have no choice but to give the rookie a spot on their 53-man roster. Teams have until next Tuesday at 4 pm to make their cuts. While Ross certainly feels more comfortable in Macdonald’s defense than he would be acquiring a new system on the fly, he has been one of the standout defensive players in the entire league for the first two weeks. To risk putting Ross on waivers, particularly considering the Ravens’ inside linebacker position is one with little certainty outside of Patrick Queen, would be remiss.

An interesting irony is that Ross’ position coach is former Ravens linebacker Zach Orr. Orr was a UDFA in 2014 who made the Ravens’ 53-man roster as a rookie, as Ross is pushing for him to, too. Orr became an All-Pro selection in his third season before injury uncovered a congenital condition in his neck and spine that forced him to retire. Orr became an assistant coach for the Ravens before following former defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who was the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars last year. Orr was the Jaguars’ linebackers coach in 2021, but after a change in training regimen this offseason, the former All-Pro returned to the same position in Baltimore. It’s hard to imagine that Orr, who had even less acclaim in North Texas and unspectacular Pro-Day numbers, isn’t laying down the exact formula for Ross to earn a regular-season berth.

Ross is setting the recipe for UDFA across the league. He is playing fast, under control, with confidence. There’s no mistaking the reading of him, the way he attacks blockers or ball carriers. He is playing with a controlled violence that is a refined beauty in terms of the linebacker game. Ross also runs like a bat whenever an offensive play develops. Ross has essentially amassed standout tapes in each of the last two games. His performance against the Cardinals was something to marvel at.

If Ross can play 80% as well as he did in the first two games, the Ravens will simply have no choice but to include the Wolverine alumni on their opening day roster. While many have praised the Ravens’ 2022 draft class as one of the best in the show, Ross has shown the potential to be one of their most impactful rookies in 2022. Watching him against the Commanders tonight will be the most fun part of preseason. . An undrafted player with little acclaim? Check mark. Has he made a name for himself after dominating exhibition games? Check mark. Will he have all the pressure on his shoulders to follow through with a repeat performance and earn a spot on the roster? Check mark.

Ultimately, it’s Mike Macdonald’s defense and decision on who he wants to earn a spot on the roster. With another big performance, Macdonald will have a player familiar with his system in a position of need who looks like a potential impact player. The word is yours, Josh Ross.

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