MADISON, Wis. — Chris Borland could standstill box-jump 51 inches, kick 40-yard field goals, punt 50 yards, safely land standing-backflips, catch passes with one hand and throw the ball 50 yards downfield. He was every bit the athletic freak that legend made him out to be, a seemingly superhuman combination of strength and smarts that forced opponents to game plan ways to avoid Wisconsin’s standout linebacker every Saturday.
Or, as Badgers linebacker Derek Landisch puts it: "Chris is probably a once-in-a-decade type of player."
Imagine the daunting challenge facing Landisch, then, given that he’s the man tasked with replacing Borland in the middle of Wisconsin’s defense. Then again, replace might not be the proper word.
In fact, Badgers coach Gary Andersen said as much during the team’s media day on Aug. 1.
"You don’t replace Chris with just one person," Andersen said. "And Landisch doesn’t want to hear that, trust me, but that is the fact of where we sit. They just have to play within the defense, play within the scheme.
"Chris was the master at that. Chris understood when to take his chances because he was such a studier. If you want to be that guy, you better start thinking about putting the time in that Chris Borland put into his weekly film review and the situations he got himself in."
How in the world is Landisch supposed to handle his new role? Actually, the 6-foot, 231-pound senior from Nashotah, Wis., is embracing it by maintaining confidence that he has enough football acumen to excel.
"I don’t put that pressure on myself," Landisch said of replacing Borland. "I know that my best play is going to come when I play within myself. That doesn’t mean I’m not working hard, still trying to improve. I’m going to play my hardest. But I’m not going to try to be Chris Borland.
"Because then I’ll get out of myself and do too much, maybe start gambling a little bit with my reads and keys. I think that’s going to hurt the defense. So I’m just going to play within myself, not put that pressure on myself."
Last year, Borland led the team in tackles with 112. No other Badgers player finished with more than 63. Landisch, meanwhile, tallied 33 tackles, including two tackles for a loss, one sack and one forced fumble while playing in 10 games and making two starts.
Like the rest of Wisconsin’s front seven, Landisch will be taking on a new role as a full-time starter. Not one of the team’s projected starters for the Aug. 30 season opener against LSU started in Wisconsin’s Jan. 1 bowl game against South Carolina. One of those starters, Michael Caputo, has since moved from outside linebacker to safety, while the other six players used up their eligibility, including Borland, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers. For that reason, Landisch’s leadership will be even more important.
"I definitely see the defense on another level when we play with that edge, when we play with that chip on our shoulder," Landisch said. "We have a big reason to, all those guys graduating. Throughout camp, I see us playing with that chip on our shoulder."
Though Landisch has started only three times, he has appeared in 38 games, which is the most among Wisconsin’s defensive players and second on the team only to right tackle Rob Havenstein. In other words, Landisch has the experience — just not the eye-popping statistics yet.
His best game took place in 2012 against Penn State when he recorded 11 tackles in his first career start. But he did not finish with more than five tackles in any game last season. Those numbers, of course, are expected to increase as his importance becomes more prominent.
Landisch, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury since last week, maintained three different times after Wednesday’s practice that he was taking things "day by day," and he hoped to be ready for the LSU game. His presence certainly will be needed, according to coaches.
"His last day here before he pulled that hamstring was his best practice," Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "He was making every play. I think we had 9-on-9, he made every tackle in that 9-on-9. He was rushing the passer, our backside had a hard time blocking him. And so he provides us with that mismatch. He’s that game changer inside. Our guys recognize that. Our front seven, they recognize it. They look to him for leadership. They look for him to make the calls inside and out.
Landisch noted he had worked on becoming a more vocal leader to the group, learning from former linebackers Borland, Ethan Armstrong and Mike Taylor, who showed him the proper way to approach the game. He will be responsible this season for essentially being the quarterback of the defense, he said.
"You have all the checks," Landisch said. "You’re talking to the d-line, you’re talking to the secondary, you’re alerting run plays, alerting pass plays, certain tendencies, reading offensive linemen, all that type of thing. So you’re kind of the captain of the defense there."
No, Landisch may not be Chris Borland. Coaches, however, believe he’ll be plenty good in his own right.
"You don’t replace a guy like Chris," Aranda said. "But Derek’s got his own way about him. He’s got the guys’ respect. We’re hoping Derek comes back sooner rather than later."