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Chris Borland, Michael Wilhoite Even in 49ers Inside Linebacker Competition

Posted Aug 13, 2014

The San Francisco 49ers have a close competition to find the team's Week 1 starter at inside linebacker next to Patrick Willis.



The San Francisco 49ers have a close competition in the team's quest to find a Week 1 starter at inside linebacker.

The battle to step in NaVorro Bowman's shoes and line up next to Patrick Willis is not a lock by any means.

Veteran linebacker Michael Wilhoite and third-round draft pick Chris Borland are "very even," according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

The respected coordinator made the notable comment before the team returns to training camp work in Santa Clara. Wilhoite and Borland lined up as the team's first-team inside linebackers when the 49ers faced the Baltimore Ravens in the preseason opener last Thursday.

Willis was held out of action for precautionary reasons. The seven-time Pro Bowler, however, returned to the field in the team's joint practices in Owings Mills, Md.

Borland recorded two tackles in his preseason start against the Ravens.

"There was some good and some bad," the Wisconsin product said of his NFL debut. "I think I made a few mistakes that I’d like to have back. But overall, I played hard. I think it’s just the first game. Hopefully I’ll make a big improvement in the second game."

The second game comes this Sunday at Levi's® Stadium against the Denver Broncos.

Borland said the 49ers haven't started watching film on the Broncos just yet. For now, the emphasis is for Borland to learn from his performance in the preseason opener and joint practices with the Ravens.

Borland is also learning both inside linebacker positions. The rookie said he's been playing mostly at "Mike" position as Willis' backup. If Borland were to beat Wilhoite for a starting spot, Willis would move over to the "Jack" linebacker spot - the coverage-intensive role held by Bowman for the past three seasons.

"I have a good feel for both," Borland said. "I’ve been primarily playing at ‘Mike.’ That’s where I’m focused, but in a pinch I can play ‘Jack.’"

Borland said he benefitted greatly from the past week in Baltimore. The rookie was able to apply what he's learned in game-like situations against a quality opponent like the Ravens.

"The practices were great," the former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year said. "We were able to see some new things and see some new players as well. We got a lot of work in because we had more numbers, so those were beneficial for us.

"We're better for it."