Three games into the 2010 season, and the Wisconsin Badgers are already being served their first course of adversity.
Linebacker Chris Borland is the entrée of choice here, and his cranky surgically repaired left shoulder is the dinner guest causing a scene. Against Arizona State Saturday, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year reaggravated his shoulder injury on his sixth snap of the game. Afterwards, head coach Bret Bielema suggested that Borland could redshirt this year, putting him out for the rest of the season but providing another year of eligibility.
“We’re only going to put him out there if it is in his best interests and [his] health and safety,” Bielema told reporters after the game.
Borland was scheduled to undergo more tests Monday and likely meet with Bielema to discuss his options. Shutting Borland down for the year would be a huge loss for UW, as the Kettering, Ohio native has proven nearly indispensable on both defense and special teams in less than two years as a Badger. Last year, Borland burst on the scene with a reputation as a stat-sheet filler, posting 54 tackles (10.5 for loss), five sacks, five fumbles caused and three recorded and one interception.
Essentially unblockable in run support and a menace rushing the passer in UW’s “Badger” 3-3-5 package, Wisconsin needs Borland, and you can bet that Borland needs to stay on the field – cut out of the old-fashioned, do-it-all linebacker mold, Borland’s not going to sit out if he can help it.
Thus, as one Michael Sorrentino has been known to say, “we’ve got a situation.”
What’s the remedy? Just shut him down, Bret. Just shut him down.
For starters, the Badgers cannot afford to be pressing their luck. Everyone’s been talking about the hustle of Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward in tracking down ASU’s Kyle Middlebrooks at the 1-yard-line right before halftime and Jay Valai’s magnificent blocked PAT, but the truth remains that UW is lucky to have held on for a victory. Coaches preach the value of special teams like the guys on “The Jersey Shore” swear by their GTL routine, but there’s no way that even the Badgers’ special teams coaches are expecting two standout plays from the unit every game. Borland’s absence will be distinct, and with Wisconsin fortunate to be ranked No. 10 in the nation, UW shouldn’t test its luck by mortgaging Borland’s future.
On the sunnier side of things, there’s also a positive reason for redshirting Borland right now — these Badgers are deep, very deep, at linebacker. Senior captain Culmer St. Jean has been a bright spot for the defense so far, leading the way with 17 tackles in the first three games. Mike Taylor, UW’s other starting outside linebacker opposite Borland, is steadily working himself back from his second knee surgery a few weeks ago and looks to be in good shape.
Then there are the reserves, senior Blake Sorenson, redshirt junior Kevin Rouse and junior Kevin Claxton. I’ve already touted the merits of having a player like Sorenson available to come off the bench and play all three linebacker spots (“No. 9 could be savior for injured LBs,” 9/2/10), and the Eden Prairie, Minn. native hasn’t disappointed. With all three starting linebackers nursing injuries at one point or the other, Sorenson has seen plenty of playing time so far this season, recording 16 tackles – second on the team, right behind St. Jean.
After Saturday’s game, Bielema confirmed to reporters that Borland can — in the next six games — play in two and still redshirt. But with such solid depth at linebacker, it just doesn’t pay to mortgage Borland’s future. He needs to be shut down, now.
Obviously, planning for the future comes after planning for the next game, especially in Wisconsin where “1-0” is the program’s live by, die by mantra. Yet, this team will be losing St. Jean, Valai, Sorenson and starting cornerback Niles Brinkley to graduation after this season. Right there, that’s four key players from your defense. Throw in the fact that if defensive end J.J. Watt continues along his torrid pace this season and decides to test the NFL Draft waters, the Badgers’ D will be missing nearly half of its best players next year.
So that’s the situation. Less than a month into the season, and adversity is already staring the Badgers right in the eyes. Coaches talk all spring, summer and fall about the “a-word” and how nothing counts until their teams are actually tested in the regular season, and now Wisconsin’s defense finds itself being tested. If Watt and the D-line can continue to supply a strong pass rush, the depth at linebacker should sufficiently compensate for Borland’s absence. Then, next year, Borland and Taylor will make up two-thirds of what will be one of, if not the best, linebacker units in the Big Ten. It’s not a tough decision or even a bold proclamation, it’s just clear and simple — shutting Borland down now makes sense for both the present and the future.
Mike is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. Do you think Borland should be redshirted? Are two “Jersey Shore” references two too many for you? Let him know at [email protected]