After injury, LB Borland eases back in for Badgers

(Eds: Adds details. With AP Photos.)By CHRIS JENKINSAP Sports Writer

Chris Borland says there’s a fine line between aggression and stupidity for a player coming back from a major injury. So far, he has managed not to cross it.

After a standout freshman season in 2009, Borland is coming back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him nearly all of last year. And he’s moving from outside linebacker to the middle, taking over defensive signal-calling responsibilities for a team that’s expected to contend for the Big Ten title – and beyond.

That’s already a lot to ask, but Borland’s biggest challenge might be dialing down his intensity in practice. The 11th-ranked Badgers will depend greatly on Borland being healthy, and coaches have brought him along slowly in camp. They don’t want him to do anything that would jeopardize his availability for the Sept. 1 season opener against UNLV.

”You walk a fine line,” Borland said. ”You’re always going to take coaches’ advice and (try to) do what they say, but you don’t want to be timid at the same time. I think I’ve learned a healthy balance between being aggressive and being stupid. I just have to continue to be smart about it.”

Borland had a hard time in camp early on. He could see a play developing and knew where he needed to be, but his body wouldn’t quite respond the way he wanted it to. Badgers linebackers coach Dave Huxtable assured Borland that it will all come back with more time in practice – and continues to warn him not to do too much too soon.

”It’s hard to pull the reins back on a guy that’s got one speed,” Huxtable said. ”And that’s what Chris has: one speed. And that’s full speed. In those situations, he’s got to be smart. And I’ve got to continue to remind him to be smart.”

Borland sat out team drills early in camp, giving him a chance to watch from the sidelines and think about the calls he’d made as a middle linebacker. The position switch means Borland must be more of a vocal leader, something he admits didn’t come naturally.

”I wasn’t much of a talker,” Borland said. ”I’m not afraid to or shy to talk, but I just didn’t before; didn’t need to. It was a change, but it wasn’t too bad for me and wasn’t too much of a transition.”

Badgers coach Bret Bielema says Borland’s knowledge of the game is helping him make a quick transition.

”He’s kind of the counterpart to the QB on offense,” Bielema said. ”He makes all the calls and makes all the adjustments with what the offense. His football IQ is so far through the roof and he’s taken to that position pretty quickly.”

New Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson is impressed, especially with Borland’s ability to drop into pass coverage.

”He has a knowledge of the game that’s incredible, which is great to see from a defensive player – especially a linebacker,” Wilson said. ”He has a great ability to accelerate through certain paths and deflect balls or intercept them or make a tackle. It’s pretty great to see him and all the hard work he puts in on and off the field.”

One of the biggest questions facing the Badgers’ defense this year is how they’ll replace the pass-rushing ability of defensive end J.J. Watt, now with the Houston Texans. Huxtable said the Badgers’ new scheme could include bringing more pressure with linebackers, and Borland might play a role.

”Chris Borland is an excellent pass rusher,” Huxtable said. ”In years past, they’ve used him in different packages, using him as a rush end and using him as a dog linebacker. Chris Borland certainly is one of those guys that’s going to give us a lotta, lotta pressure when we choose to bring him.”

Borland said he and fellow projected starting linebackers Mike Taylor and Kevin Claxton are looking forward to getting after opposing quarterbacks.

”We’re pretty intense guys,” Borland said. ”Blitzing is right up our alley, so it will be fun.”

Bielema already is seeing glimpses of what Borland will be able to do for the Badgers this season, including a particularly impressive interception in a recent practice.

”He ran underneath it, undercut it and made an unbelievable play without touching the offensive player at all,” Bielema said. ”It kind of makes me excited about what that kid can potentially do.”

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