Badgers' Borland ready to go; Smith is No. 2 cornerback

Borland healthy, set to play with Taylor against UNLV

Madison - The wait is nearly over for the Badgers, as their first game of the season is just three days away. While it's been a long wait for their fans since the 2011 Rose Bowl game, it's been an even longer wait for two Wisconsin linebackers. Thursday marks one of the first times both Chris Borland and Mike Taylor will be healthy and starting in the same game. Both the coaching and medical staff cleared Borland to go 100 percent against UNLV, after keeping Borland on what he described as a "pitch count" in camp.

"Hopefully they're both out there and healthy this Thursday," said co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. "We're excited to see what they can do."

It's been a long journey to get both Borland and Taylor on the field and keep them there. Despite both having breakout seasons in 2009, Borland and Taylor have only started one game together- last year against Arizona State, which Borland was forced to leave with a season-ending shoulder injury. Still, Borland thinks he has a special connection with his fellow linebackers. 

"I think we're both pretty instinctual," said Borland, who was quick to mention that fellow starter Kevin Claxton is "cut from the same cloth" as Taylor and himself. 

Defensive backfield solidified

Senior cornerback Devin Smith will start opposite Antonio Fenelus at cornerback, according to Ash. Smith was originally listed as in a platoon with Marcus Cromartie, who came on strong in fall camp. 

"Devin is the starter," said Ash, "[Cromartie] is going to play in certain situations, but Devin is the starter and that's the way we'll go." 

Cromartie, a redshirt junior, had a good camp but it looks like the Badgers are electing to go with experienced, trusted players in the first game of the year. 

"We're looking for the four players that we can trust the most," said Ash. "Not necessarily the most talented players, or the best players."

It also looks like strong safety Shelton Johnson has earned the coaching staff's trust. Johnson was more consistent than fellow safety Dezmen Southward, so Johnson will take over for Jay Valai on Thursday.

Don't overlook the Rebels

Both players and coaches made sure to say they were not taking their game with the UNLV Rebels for granted. It might be easy to look ahead to the bigger-name teams on the schedule, but Borland gave a lot of credit to UNLV's receivers. 

"They have some weapons," said Borland. "I know Payne is a deep threat, and [Michael Johnson] is fast and can make you miss. From what I've read their quarterback can wing it too, so they're a dangerous team."

Ash also believes the Rebels' receiving game will be a good first test for his secondary. 

"They have a good group of skill players," said Ash. "It's the biggest strength of their team."

Practice News and Notes

  • In an attempt to manage his workload, Borland is only on one special teams unit right now. He'll be on the hands team, which recovers onside kicks. When asked about whether he will be able to kick the extra point if he scores a defensive touchdown, Borland laughed and said, "No, we're pretty deep at kicker."
  • Linebacker Connor O'Neill is back to practicing, and linebackers coach Dave Huxtable said that when his unit is healthy, he feels very comfortable with his two-deep players. 
  • Borland mentioned he is excited to play in his first night game at Camp Randall. Borland was sidelined or not starting for all of the previous ones in his career, but he'll get at least two chances to change that this year. The Badgers are scheduled to play both UNLV and Nebraska at night in primetime. 

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