Chris Borland seemed to be in the middle of everything during the 2009 season when he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, forcing turnovers and recording sacks on a regular basis.
Now, after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury last season, Borland is set to become the official man in the middle for the UW defense in 2011.
Head coach Bret Bielema announced at the start of spring camp that Borland was making a position switch from outside to middle linebacker. Borland remains limited in spring camp as he works his way back to full health, but the transition to middle linebacker has already started in the film room.
“I’ve just been familiarizing myself with the position,” Borland said. “It’s not too difficult really. And we’ve changed some things with our defense so everybody is learning. I played a little bit my freshman year and its been a pretty smooth transition so far.”
But why the need for such a transition in the first place?
Borland established himself as a defensive play maker in his first season on the outside, so why make a change?
According to Borland, the move fits better with Wisconsin’s current linebacker depth.
“I think it’s just a practical decision based on our personnel,” Borland said. “Mike [Taylor] and Clax [Kevin Claxton] are two great outside linebackers and I’m probably a better fit than both of those guys in the middle.
“To get three of our better guys on the field – I think it makes the most sense.”
In addition, Borland appears to have the skill set necessary to excel at the middle linebacker spot.
The 5-foot-11, 242-pound player is stout enough to hold his ground against inside running plays, and he also has the quickness needed to shoot the gaps and make plays on the edges.
With that in mind, Borland’s fellow linebackers are excited about the positive effect the move will have on their unit.
“I think it’s a really good move,” senior linebacker Kevin Claxton said. “Chris is a very athletic, explosive guy who can go sideline to sideline. It’s a good thing for us to have him on the inside.”
“In this defense having Chris in the middle keeps him in the box,” junior linebacker Mike Taylor added. “Chris is just great for fighting those linemen and using his quickness and strength to bully those guys. Having him always in the box where he can always make plays will be really helpful.”
Offenses now won’t be able to run away from Borland’s side of the field in hopes of keeping him away from the action.
In the middle, Borland can use his speed to track down plays on either side.
But how does Borland’s unique pass rushing ability fit in? In his freshman season, Borland finished with five sacks and was constantly pressuring the quarterback with his trademark spin move off the edge.
Opposing offensive tackles were simply no match for Borland’s quickness, and though he may be moving inside in UW’s base defense, don’t be surprised to see Borland lined up on the outside for that very role in specific third down packages.
“We don’t know what we are going to do yet for our third down package but yeah, absolutely,” Borland said with a smile. “I think that will stay.”
Borland says he expects to be back to 100 percent by June when the Badgers begin their summer workout program.
He’ll continue to study his new position until camp resumes in the fall when he will presumably be able to return to full-contact action for the first time in months.
So, how anxious is Borland to test out the middle linebacker spot and absorb that first collision?
“Words really can’t describe,” he said.