MADISON -- Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, currently nursing a hamstring injury, practiced for the first time this week Thursday but will be a game-time decision heading into Saturday's game at Iowa.
Badgers head coach Gary Andersen said Borland participated in most of Thursday's practice and that the team's star linebacker told him he "feels good." Although Andersen agreed that Borland would be a game-time decision Saturday, the coach expects him to play.
"It's really going to depend on Chris and the trainers," Andersen said. "The trainers have done a tremendous job of getting him to this point. Chris knows how to take care of his body. Like I said earlier in the week, I'm very optimistic and I expect him to play."
Junior linebacker Marcus Trotter ran with the first-team defense when Borland missed practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said Wednesday that Derek Landisch and Ethan Armstrong could also help fill in Borland's spot in the middle if he's unable to play.
"It's great to have a special player out there, but Trotter's ready to go and [Conor] O'Neill and Landisch, and Ethan [Armstrong] has come in and played inside," Andersen said. "I think we'll be fine either way. These kids have high expectations of themselves personally to go out and produce on game day."
Power of pink
Iowa's pink visitor's locker room is a stroke of gamesmanship that Andersen doesn't believe will bother the Badgers in the least bit before Saturday's game kicks off.
In fact, Andersen said he'll likely prefer the Hawkeyes' accommodations more than many others he's experienced in the past.
"I hear it's a very nice locker room," the coach said. "That's what we really care about. Some locker rooms are not so nice, and from my understanding it's a nice locker room. It's got a lot of space for us."
Besides, Andersen said, Wisconsin has already proven its immunity to the color pink.
"We played in pink gloves last week, and we did OK with those on, so I think we'll be fine," he said.
Beyond the stats
Defensive lineman Ethan Hemer has just two tackles through seven games this season, but Andersen said that's a bigger credit to the attention the senior is drawing from opposing offensive lines rather than a lack of production.
As a 3-4 defensive end in the Badgers' new scheme, Hemer routinely takes on multiple blockers to free up space for linebackers to make more plays.
"It's a very difficult position," Andersen said. "He's a good player, and people know they've got to stay on the combination blocks and the double-teams on him for a long period of time. To me, in it's own way it's a credit to Ethan and the way people have to be able to deal with him because he moves the line of scrimmage, he does his job at the point of attack and blocks stay on him for a long time and allow the linebackers to run free."
Tight end production
Andersen said Wisconsin is looking to involve its tight ends more as the season progresses and the Badgers continue to implement more of their offensive playbook.
The results have already begun to show. Jacob Pedersen, the team's third-leading receiver, has caught seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in two games since sitting out against Ohio State.
"When (Pedersen) has had opportunities, he's taken advantage of it," Andersen said. That's what key players do. I think the evolution of the offense is continuing to improve with the tight ends."