By Tom Lea
For some, Chris Borland may be the most important player not only on the defense entering the 2011 season, but the entire team. By losing J.J. Watt to the NFL, Wisconsin doesn't really return an established pass rusher up front entering this season. So for those that think Borland is the most important player entering this season, that's got to be the starting point.
As a freshman, Borland proved to be one of the more dynamic pass rush specialists Wisconsin has ever seen. So his value is limitless in that regard. As long as his injured shoulder stays intact after having a couple of off-season surgeries that hopefully corrected any problems that kept him out of most of last year, Borland will probably revert back to his explosive ways. That's kind of a big question mark, though, and the major reason he's ranked as the No. 1 defender on our list instead of No. 1 overall player.
All indications are that Borland is feeling 100 percent healthy as fall camp approaches. He was active during spring camp as evidenced by his willingness to run sprints, play catch or showcase his punting skills in the spring game. It seems as though the decision to undergo surgery at the expense of missing most of the 2010 season was the correct decision for Borland because it seems as though he'll be healthy entering this season.
If that's the case he will likely be in line for another very impressive season, even if there are growing pains occurring while he settles into a new role as middle linebacker. How will defensive coordinator's Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge utilize his knack as a pass rusher. How will Borland be able to make plays happen with his knack for the ball coming out of the middle? Will he be more focused on stopping the run instead of making things happen?
Those are all questions that probably won't be answered until fall camp opens in early August. The way he adjusts to his new role and the way his shoulder responds to contact after not having much of it throughout the past 12 months will be the two determining factors in regards to his return.
The most exciting part about Borland's return though, especially if his shoulder is indeed 100 percent healthy as assumed, is that he'll be hungry to return to action and hungry to prove that he's not an injury prone one-hit wonder. Borland, in short, is a football player. He's going to want to get back on the field at all costs. And that should return huge dividends for the Badger defense.
UP NEXT: No. 2 on our list is one of the more motivated players on the roster. Having missed all of spring camp, it's evident he'll be chomping at the bit to get back on the field this fall?