The day before Josh Ross was certain he had made the Ravens' 53-man roster, Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh spilled the beans.
During an interview on “Go Blue Podcasts", Jim said he had spoken with Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh.
"My brother said Josh is going to make the team," Jim said, jumping the gun on making the news public.
It's a funny anecdote that Ross will remember on his journey from undrafted rookie from Michigan to Ravens linebacker. Ross plans to follow in the footsteps of Inside Linebackers Coach Zach Orr, Josh Bynes, Bart Scott, Patrick Onwuasor, Albert McClellan, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe – undrafted inside linebackers who made their mark with Baltimore.
Ross has the same DNA – talented, hungry, versatile, with a willingness to play on special teams.
"I've really been working my butt off, and my head has been down the whole time, and it's going to stay down," Ross said. "Now it's just another opportunity to go out there and keep getting better and keep adding a resume to my name and keep proving myself every single day."
Having Orr as his position coach, a person who went from undrafted free agent to All-Pro, is an asset that Ross is taking full advantage of.
"He's just a great mentor," Ross said of Orr. "It's funny because he kind of reminds me of my older brother in a way, a guy that's literally done everything I want to do, and some, with his career. Just having guys like that as your coach, as a mentor, as a guy who can critique your game, as a guy who can help you, it's literally the best thing you can ask for. So, I love Coach Orr, for sure."
The Ravens love what Ross has done daily since rookie minicamp, making plays on special teams, as a run stopper and as a pass defender. It's clear he reacts quickly and tackles well, after leading the Ravens with 20 tackles during the preseason.
"He earned it," John Harbaugh said. "He played well on defense, he played well on special teams. He kept the momentum going all through camp. In the games, he made plays."
Former Ravens inside linebacker Chris Board signed with Detroit in free agency, creating an opportunity for Ross to play regularly. Patrick Queen and Bynes are the starting linebackers on the depth chart, and Malik Harrison and Kristian Welch are the rotation, but Board played 33% of Baltimore's defensive snaps last season. Ross was excellent in pass coverage during the preseason, creating a possible role for him in obvious passing situations.
After Ross wasn't drafted, signing with the Ravens was a natural fit. At Michigan last season, he played for new Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald, who brought out the best of Ross' ability. Ross was a team captain, relayed the defensive calls to his teammates and led the team with 106 tackles.
"Josh is just a great human being, man," Macdonald said. "He's mature, serious – but in the right way – thoughtful, very energetic, attacks everything that he goes about. Really, he's one of the favorite players at Michigan that I've coached on a day-to-day basis. So, he deserves a lot of credit for the position he's put himself in. And Zach deserves a lot of credit, too. Zach is with him every day, in every meeting."
Ross thought he would be drafted by someone, but at 6-foot, 229 pounds, some scouts thought he was undersized for his position. He was also overshadowed by two Michigan defenders who were first-round picks – No. 2 overall Aiden Hutchinson who went to the Lions and safety Dax Hill who went No. 31 to the Bengals. Another Michigan standout, pass rusher David Ojabo, came to Baltimore in the second round.
When the draft ended and Ross hadn't heard his name, it added to his determination.
"It definitely ticked me off a little bit, I'm not going to lie to you," Ross said. "Every player who doesn't get drafted, you see the guys that were drafted before you. But, at the end of the day, honestly, I knew even not getting drafted, I was still going to have one of my best opportunities and be able to come here. I came here and stood on my 10 toes and worked my butt off. That's what I'm going to continue to do every day, because that's what I'm about."
Having familiarity with Macdonald's system helped Ross, and his ties to Michigan also worked in his favor. But what sealed Ross' roster spot was his performance. Now that he's made the team, he's determined to keep getting better."
"It's all about learning; it's all about getting better and not making the same mistake," Ross said. "My football intelligence definitely grew up into this moment for sure. And it's going to continue to grow, because I'm going to keep getting better."