“I feel I can do a lot of things in the slot position. I feel I have the tools to succeed at the slot position.”
The Mississippi State staff agrees. After watching Fred Ross operate so effectively at split end last season, the thinking is he can now upgrade the production working out of a slot spot. Based on spring and preseason practicing, that thinking is spot-on.
“It’s been going very good,” Ross said. “I’ve started to get a little bit more comfortable with the position. And I know I can play multiple positions, I played a little bit of it in high school. So I’m just doing whatever it takes to help the team.”
Now running the interior routes and catching passes in heavier traffic at the high school level is a far, far cry from Ross’ college responsibilities. Then again, this was a prep All-American who snagged 86 balls as a senior at John Tyler, Texas, High with about one of every four catches scoring a touchdown.
So after a transition freshman season, which ended nine quarters early on a shoulder injury anyway, Ross made himself comfortably at home as a 2014 sophomore. He was third in club catches and second in touchdowns…again running routes off a sideline. He also started just twice, UT-Martin and Vanderbilt.
Now Ross steps up to first-team, where he can become first-option in many a Bulldog passing plan. The switch wasn’t really surprising. With Jameon Lewis graduated a new starter and big-play slot threat was needed. A younger or outright new kid could have been promoted, but the smart move was getting Ross’ speed and strength into interior routes and make mismatches.
Oh, and yes. Ross said he saw Lewis’ numbers. “I definitely did!” The prospect of making those same plays was all the inducement necessary.
The Bulldog bonus to this switch is by bringing Ross inside, a whole lot more split ends can take their turns operating outside. It is also a comment on faith State has in Joe Morrow, Fred Brown, Jesse Jackson, and more talented targets to take Ross’ old position opposite Wilson.
But the real motivation for moving was to create those mis-matchups. Whether working on the same side of the field as De’Runnya Wilson, or on the other side of the down-linemen, defenses are presented with some really tough coverage calls.
Ross loves the dilemma. “You double-team De’Runnya on the outside, I feel I can win on the inside. You double-team on the inside, I’ve got all the trust in Bear that he’s going to win 99.9% of the time.” The new inside guy also loves this tag-teaming of different styles. Different personalities, too. “Oh yeah, that’s my guy,” Ross said.
“We push each other every day. In the meeting room we see someone do something good and we are all fired-up about it. We’re just trying to make each other better because we know how it’s going to get when the season gets here. So we just want to go out there and make plays.”
Ross, Wilson, and the rest of the veterans will make their plays. At the same time there’s an intriguing group of newer receivers already showing they belong on the field in at least some snaps. Maybe more than some. While Wilson, Brown, and Morrow are helping prepare redshirt Jesse Jackson and true frosh Deddrick Thomas for split end work, Ross has his own kids to coach up.
Well, Gabe Myles isn’t a kid really. This is his third year here and as a soph Myles showed he had a great burst off the line and good hands on short routes from the slot. Myles has gracefully handled having Ross moved over and ahead of him as they do offer very different styles from the slot.
Then there’s the really precocious pup. He might’ve been a high school running back but Malik Dear has stepped right in as a college slot receiver. Physically the freshman is ready to play; mentally, there’s always a lot of development in a sophisticated passing scheme. Dear does look like a quick study.
The point being, Ross finds himself at a career stage of helping groom guys who want his job. And he’s good with that. Besides, if Ross and Wilson have huge years they may well choose to move on up to the NFL next spring, so somebody has to be prepped to take over in 2016.
“I feel I have a lot of young guys in the meeting room looking up to me,” Ross said. “They’ve looking for someone to lean on. They want to look up to me to ask me questions. So I feel I’m old enough and mature enough now to tell them the right way to go.”