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Chris Borland Takes Reps after Patrick Willis at LB

Posted May 19, 2014

The San Francisco 49ers third-round NFL Draft pick looks forward to learning from his bigger, faster teammates, but he's also following in the footsteps of league alums Sam Mills, London Fletcher and Zach Thomas.


What do Zach Thomas, Sam Mills and London Fletcher all have in common?

They were sub-six-foot inside linebackers that survived – and thrived – in the NFL for at least 12 seasons.

The trio was also singled out and mentioned by name in Chris Borland’s first meeting with Bay Area reporters. The San Francisco 49ers 5-foot-11, 248-pound third-round pick in this month’s NFL Draft has some real-life, albeit retired examples to follow.

Borland does have two inches and 19 pounds on Mills, who defensive coordinator Vic Fangio coached in Carolina for three seasons starting in 1995.

“There are some limitations,” Borland said. “I’m not the biggest guy in stature. Straight-line speed is not my forte either. But I play very fast.”

To do this, he said, Borland studies his craft in the film room. The tape could tell him the best angle to a ball carrier, ensuring no step is wasted. This cuts down his 40-yard dash time of 4.83 seconds.

Jim Harbaugh saw this in his own review of the University of Wisconsin product, comparing him to “a bowling ball hitting pins.”

“The instincts that he has, the way he sees the game, the way he studies the game,” the coach said. “You know he studies it because he’s already moving in directions that a person can only be moving that quickly because they had a tip, or they had a study, a film or something that the coaches had given them.”

Then there are his arms, which were measured at 29.25 inches (or 3.75 inches shorter than NaVorro Bowman’s) at the Scouting Combine in March. This, he paid no mind.

“I never feel outmatched out there,” Borland said. “I’m comfortable with my talents.”

Even if Patrick Willis couldn’t recognize him on first sight in the 49ers locker room.

“We introduced each other,” Borland said. “I don’t think he knew who I was.”

Handshakes and pleasantries aside, Borland has the benefit of spending the offseason program taking reps after Willis and sharing notes in the meeting room with Bowman, who is rehabbing a knee injury that will likely cost him the first half of the upcoming season. Incumbents Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody as well as undrafted free agents Shayne Skov and Morgan Breslin round out the inside linebacking corps.

“It’s been great to work with Patrick one on one here the last three or four days,” Borland said. “The way he works, the way he approaches things and leads, it’s inspiring.

“I don’t know of two better guys to learn from about how to learn this position.”

For his part, Borland expressed a desire to first carve out a role for himself. He is not yet focused on earning a starting job – Bowman will need a short-term replacement – the way that Thomas, Mills and Fletcher once did.

Borland was teammates with another former NFL prospect who was downgraded because of his so-called measurables. Remember Seattle Seahawks 5-foot-11-inch quarterback Russell Wilson?

“Good guy, respect him,” said Borland, who was Wilson’s Wisconsin teammate in 2011, “but he’s a division foe and we’ll have to get after him.

“(Linebackers) coach (Jim) Leavitt the others day was talking about the Niners-Seahawks rivalry like it’s a college rivalry, so it will be fun to be a part of. I know the fans don’t really care for each other, and the teams don’t ether. That’s fun, that’s what football’s all about.”