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Sunday, June 16, 2024
Badgers must count on youthful linebackers

Mike Taylor: Freshman linebacker Mike Taylor made his first start at the collegiate level against NIU and recorded seven tackles.

Badgers must count on youthful linebackers

It may seem a quite bold for a player making his first start to call that he will force a turnover on the next play. But when you deliver on that prediction, as freshman linebacker Mike Taylor did on Saturday against Northern Illinois, that is another story.

After a redshirt season in the program, Taylor made a big impact during his first action on the field for the Badgers. He is one of two freshmen in the Badgers' top six linebackers, the other being his backup, true freshman Chris Borland.

""[Borland and Mike Taylor] are guys that bring a lot of energy to our linebacking core,"" Jaevery McFadden, the lone senior starting at linebacker, said. ""They're doing a lot of good things for us and I just want them to get better every game and that's what it looks like they're trying to do.""

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Borland did not register a tackle Saturday but did make several plays on special teams. He saw time as a pass rusher in the team's third down package and made his presence felt, pressuring the quarterback several times.

It has only been a few months since Borland left his high school in Kettering, Ohio, where he earned all-state honors as a senior, but his ability to make plays got him on the field Saturday. Borland called the whole experience simply exciting.

""Playing in front of that many people would be exciting for everyone, especially at 18 years old, where six months ago, I was in high school competition,"" Borland said. ""But a lot of that goes away because you've got to focus on your task; focus on not letting your teammates down.""

Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren had high praise for Borland, pointing out how his strength and power contrasted with Taylor, who is a bit quicker and has a more wiry build. 

""Chris Borland's a guy that's going to be a very popular player here in time,"" Doeren said. ""He's a playmaker, he's physical, he's fast, he loves playing the game, he plays hard all the time. He's just got to learn all the ins and outs of college football.""

Taylor, on the other hand, had no shortage of statistics to back up his impact on the game. He finished with seven tackles, one for a loss, while forcing and recovering that fumble deep in Northern Illinois territory.

It had been a long road to that first start for Taylor. He missed much of last fall with a neck injury that required surgery, but used part of that redshirt year to hone his skills against the starters as a member of the scout team. He also had to fight off a series of nagging injuries throughout spring and fall camp.

""It was awesome, coming back from all those injuries, just overcoming all that. It was really frustrating for me,"" Taylor said of his first game. ""To get playing time was just what I was looking for, and to be the starter for the game was just awesome.""

One might think that Taylor would be satisfied with that first game, but the Ashwaubenon, Wis., native took a very critical eye toward his performance.

""I still made a lot of mistakes,"" Taylor said. ""Film doesn't lie and I lost some coverages [and] lost some assignments. I think that's what you really have to focus on; not the plays you make, it's not making bad plays that is actually what you're trying to do.""

With the departure of stalwarts DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, it was guarenteed that the linebacking core would be younger this season. With strong freshmen like Taylor and Borland holding down one of the three spots and only looking to make a bigger impact, it appears the position is in good hands.

 

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