Wisconsin is preparing to be without one of its biggest playmakers on defense.
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Coach Bret Bielema said Tuesday morning that linebacker Chris Borland is out for the season and that the school will pursue a medical redshirt for the sophomore because of a lingering left shoulder injury.
”After talking with our training staff and with Chris, we decided that the best thing for Chris was to shut him down for the rest of the year,” Bielema said in a statement. ”Obviously, Chris is a tremendous player and a ferocious competitor but after looking at all the options, everyone agreed this was the only option for him.”
Borland was the Big Ten’s freshman of the year last season, but he hurt his left shoulder again on Saturday in the 11th-ranked Badgers’ 20-19 victory over Arizona State.
”Everybody said to me last week, ‘I’m excited to see 44 back.’ Well, I was excited to see 44 back, but he also has some intangibles that go way beyond football,” Bielema said Monday. ”Chris’s personality, the character of the person he is, he would be a definite loss.”
Borland had offseason surgery to repair torn cartilage in the same shoulder, but re-aggravated the injury against UNLV and missed Wisconsin’s win against San Jose State.
Borland made a big play that likely saved a touchdown against Arizona State, but he hurt the shoulder on a diving arm tackle that tripped up running back Cameron Marshall midway through the first quarter. He left the field holding his left arm awkwardly and did not return.
After the game, Borland said he’d listen to his own body over the advice of the doctors, but Monday evening’s meeting led to only one decision – ending his season.
It’s one of many injuries the Badgers have had to deal with during their seventh consecutive 3-0 start. On offense, wide receiver Nick Toon (turf toe) missed his second game, and return specialist David Gilreath (concussion) and starting right tackle Josh Oglesby (left knee) both didn’t play on Saturday.
Borland’s loss is a big blow to a group that allowed just one touchdown against Arizona State and has been steadily improving.
Borland’s athleticism and flexibility allowed him to be the centerpiece in the defensive alignment Wisconsin calls the ”Badger package,” which features three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs.
In the grouping, it allowed Borland to pressure the quarterback as an additional rusher or drop into coverage on a tight end or running back.
Wisconsin most often uses the alignment in third-and-long situations. Bielema said defensive end David Gilbert, who was limited in Saturday’s game because he wasn’t cleared for practice until Thursday because of a concussion, is the leading choice to assume Borland’s role in the package.
”We go back to David as well as a couple of other candidates that we’ve looked at for the position Chris currently holds, including Mike Taylor,” Bielema said.
Taylor also has been working his way back from injury after tearing a ligament in his right knee last year against Iowa and missing the UNLV game this year.
Bielema said Taylor looked like he was more confident in his second game back.
”Mike basically made the comment (to the trainer) that he felt good during the game,” Bielema said. ”I think that was a big game for him to get through mentally.”
Even without Borland, Wisconsin has a deep linebacking group that includes seniors Blake Sorensen and Culmer St. Jean, junior Kevin Claxton and freshmen Ethan Armstrong and A.J. Fenton. After Borland went out early against Arizona State, Bielema was impressed with the resolve of the defense.
”I expect Blake Sorensen, I expect Culmer, I expect Claxton, I expect whoever it is to step up,” Bielema said. ”And they’ll do it.”