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MADISON - It’s come to a point where junior Chris Borland has become so talented and proficient, it’s becoming a bigger challenge to find what spot suits him best. If Wednesday is any indication, the Badgers’ defensive coaches are going to keep him busy in the middle of their unit.
After moving the Big Ten Freshman of the Year to the middle linebacker position last season in part to protect his two surgically repaired shoulders, the Badgers experimented with their 3-3-5 defense (also known as the ‘Badger’ package) by lining up Borland as an outside linebacker/defensive end and moving redshirt junior linebacker Ethan Armstrong to the middle.
Naturally the move yielded successful plays, as Borland’s penetration into the backfield caused rush decisions and more one-on-one matchups.
“His favorite one is where he is just put out there and told to go wherever he wants and the other guys cover off of him,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said of Borland following Wednesday’s evening practice. “(Chris) be the first one to tell you he wants to be there (rushing the passer). A little bit of that depends if we can put another Mike in the game. (Armstrong) is in there repping at the spot and brings a lot to the table, as well.”
Establishing a consistent pass rush is one of the vital pieces the Wisconsin’s defense is trying to develop during fall camp, as losing J.J. Watt following the 2010 season was particularly hard on the Badgers’ defense.
The Badgers ranked 70th in the nation in sacks per game, averaging just 1.79 during the season, and totaled only 11 sacks and 15 tackles for loss among the four projected starters. The Badgers ranked 60th in the nation and sixth in the Big Ten by allowing 152.64 rushing yards per game (4.29 yards per carry).
Wisconsin finished fourth in passing yards allowed per game, but the Badgers allowed opponents to complete 60.8 percent of their passes, 70th in the nation. As an outside linebacker in 2009, Borland led the team with five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, finished third on team in TFLs (10.5) and sacks (5.0) and fifth in tackles (54).
While Borland adds an added element, don’t expect it to be a permanent move, especially since Borland’s 19 tackles for loss were the most for a middle linebacker in the country and the most by a linebacker in school history.
“Base defense, (Borland) has been exceptional,” said Bielema. “I’ve coached a lot of good ‘Mikes’ and he’s right up there amongst the best I’ve ever seen. You just see those big jumps with ‘Mikes’ in their second year who haven’t played that, and he’s doing that.
Rewarding Burge and Armstrong
After saying earlier in the week that he was planning on rewarding some walk-ons a scholarship, Bielema awarded fifth-year senior right guard Robby Burge and fourth-year linebacker Ethan Armstrong a scholarship during a team meeting last night.
Slated to be the team’s starting right guard, Burge has played in 29 games over the last three seasons and rewarded for not quitting the team following last season, according to Bielema.
“He came in after the bowl game and told me he was going to quit,” said Bielema, as Burge cited academic reasons and not football. “I just kind of wanted to stay after him. I met with him a couple times. When Mike (Markuson) came in, Mike sat down and met with him. He really took to heart this summer. His body changed right in front of us and is playing pretty good football.”
Armstrong played in 25 games the last two years and started twice last year before missing the final two games of the regular season with a hip injury. After surgery knocked him out of the Big Ten Championship game, the Rose Bowl and spring football, Armstrong has returned to take the majority of repetitions with the first-string defense this past week.
“I really truly don’t think Ethan had expected that one at all,” said Bielema. “He’s been banged up, but a guy that has bought all in to the program. He’s our starting Sam linebacker.”
From the Infirmary
Redshirt freshman receiver Jordan Fredrick got spiked in the calf during Wednesday’s evening practice and had to be helped off the field with the assistance of two medical trainers. X-rays were negative, however, and will likely be a contusion that may limit Fredrick in the next few days.
It’s a tough blow for Fredrick, who had been getting a lot of reps with the first and second offense as he battles for playing time at the No.2 receiver position.
“I’m going to be interested to see how quickly he can come back,” said Bielema. “I know it started swelling up right way. Again it’s a bruise, it’s on the calf in an area that could get sore. To me he’s probably been one of the more consistent guys other than (Jared) Abbrederis. I just want him to catch the ball a lot better.”
Senior linebacker Mike Taylor (tight hamstring) has been worked in lightly this week as a precaution. Junior defensive end Tyler Dippel (plantar fasciitis) is in a walking boot for his right foot while true freshman Vince Biegel (foot) will be in a walking boot and should be ready in roughly two weeks, putting his availability for the Sept. 1 opener in jeopardy.
From the 105
The Badgers first had to deal with junior defensive tackle Jordan Kohout quitting the team after reoccurring migraines caused minor strokes. Now Wisconsin has to see an up-and-coming wide receiver quit because of too many concussions.
Mukwonago (Wis.) redshirt freshman receiver Derek Hasanoglu chose to walk on with the Badgers last season over a full offer from Army, but posted on Facebook that, “after doctor's recommendation and talking with my family, I have to give up the game of football for good.”
“Continuing in my career would put myself high at risk for future concussions and long term brain injury,” said Hasanoglu in his post. “This was a very, very tough decision to step away from the game I've played since I was a kid. I wish all my teammates luck in the future and for good health. I will always be a badger.”
In his career, Hasanoglu rushed for 1,931 yards and 27 touchdowns and passed for 1,054 yards and six touchdowns. The result of his injury allowed Wisconsin to bring in sophomore receiver Isaiah Williams, who worked in the spring game with the first-team offense before being demoted for poor play.
“He’s a guy who has shown some ability in the past,” Bielema said of Williams. “Reggie Love really had a big night tonight, so it was good to see him step forward, as well.”
Extra Points: Wisconsin also brought in true freshman tight end Jake Rademacher … Wisconsin went in full pads with the cooler temperatures and practiced goal line drills for the first time in preparation for Saturday’s scrimmage … Bielema called right tackle Rob Havenstein ‘the surprise’ of camp.