ATLANTA – Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey needed only a quick look at game film to know Washington’s John Ross has the speed to be a factor in Saturday’s Peach Bowl semifinal.
The surprise for Humphrey was learning that Ross, one of the nation’s top wide receivers, has elite speed after missing the 2015 season following right knee surgery.
“I knew he didn’t play last year but I didn’t know why,” Humphrey said Thursday. “I definitely couldn’t tell that after watching him play. I couldn’t tell that at all.”
Washington has other dangerous receivers, including Dante Pettis, but Ross has earned a prominent spot in Alabama’s defensive game plan.
“When we first ran film on him, you could tell he’s probably one of the fastest guys we’ve seen,” Humphrey said. “His off-the-line release is heads and shoulders over most. But I think what he’s best at is when the ball is in the air. … You can never really tell when he’s going to reach for it.”
Ross hurt his knee during spring practice in 2015. Washington coach Chris Peterson says Ross is a better receiver now than before the injury. The statistics back up the claim.
Ross is tied for third among FBS players with 17 touchdown catches. His talent could be an equalizer for the Huskies, who are a two-touchdown underdog.
Like Alabama star receiver Calvin Ridley, Ross is utilized in many ways. He also has scored on a run and a kickoff return.
“The way it’s worked out, maybe in some ways it was a blessing,” Peterson said Thursday of the injury. “Certainly he’s come back a better player, with a lot of hard work. … He’s really a polished receiver and he wasn’t that before. He was a good receiver who could run fast.”
Ross insists he’s even faster now. Sitting at a podium at the Peach Bowl media day, Ross said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds before the injury and has been timed at 4.25 seconds since his comeback.
Ross said “words can’t even describe” his relief in regaining his speed.
“I just remember thinking to myself what if I come back and I’m not as fast or not even close,” Ross said.
“I told my teammates if I run a 4.35 I’ve failed. They were getting mad at me because some of them can’t even run a 4.35. Even though it was hand-timed, to run that time meant a lot to me.”
Ross (5-11, 190) has 76 catches for 1,122 yards. He was a second-team AP All-America pick and a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s top receiver.
With one touchdown on Saturday he would match Mario Bailey’s school-record 18 touchdown catches in 1991. Bailey’s total is a Pac-12 record.
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