Tuesday, July 29, 2014
July 25, 2014
By Eric Branch
Michael Wilhoite has found his young competition doubles an excellent teacher.
Today, Wilhoite, 28, a three-year NFL veteran, said he’s often sought out third-round pick Chris Borland, 23, for advice this season. Input from a rookie? Borland, Wilhoite said, isn’t your typical kid.
“He has a lot of knowledge of the game,” Wilhoite said. “You can tell that he’s taken a lot of snaps at the linebacker spot, so he reads things very fast.
“I’ll even ask questions of why he did this, or why he did that. Just out of curiosity because he puts himself in very good position to make plays, whereas I might not have thought of it, or I might not have seen something.”
Borland’s instincts have been hailed by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and help explain how he had a decorated college career despite average size (5-11, 248), speed (4.83-second 40-yard dash) and alligator arms (29 ¼ inches). He was a first-team All-American and Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year at Wisconsin, where he had the second-most forced fumbles (15) in FBS history.
“You can tell he’s bred to play the linebacker position,” Wilhoite said. “He understands what he’s seeing. A lot of times as a linebacker you’ll see things, but you can’t quite correlate it to you to what you should be doing at your job. And he’s very good with that. He sees it, he understands it, he knows how to find the ball.”
Borland and Wilhoite are vying to replace All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman (knee) for a significant part of the regular season. Given his experience, Wilhoite, who played well in his first two career starts last year, is the front-runner. The competition also includes Nick Moody, a 2013 sixth-round pick, and undrafted rookie Shayne Skov.
Today, Fangio suggested Bowman’s role could be shared by a tandem, noting how outside linebackers Dan Skuta (base downs) and Corey Lemonier (nickel) split up Aldon Smith’s duties for five games in 2013.
Whatever the case, Wilhoite said the replacement(s) must strive to reach Bowman’s level.
“You have to embrace the challenge, you have to embrace the competition, you have to embrace the fact that we’re not replacing Joe Shmoe,” he said. “We’re replacing the best. So you have to the best. You can’t be Joe Shmoe, or just another guy. Good will get you beat. To me, that’s the beauty of it.”