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Unofficial start of new season brings new questions for Badgers

Big Ten Media Days

July 23, 2013


Big Ten Media Days Coverage
Follow the Badgers in Chicago Wednesday

Chris Borland will be your guide for the 2013 Big Ten Media Days as he takes control of the Badgers' Twitter account on Wednesday.

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t's not like Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, tailback James White and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis have rehearsed their answers for the Big Ten Media Days and 2013 Kickoff Luncheon. But they have anticipated the questions that they will be likely fielding Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago since they have answered them before on the coaching transition from Bret Bielema to Gary Andersen.

"I imagine they'll ask a lot about Coach Andersen,'' Borland reasoned.

"How's the new coaching staff? How are things going to be?'' White posed instinctively.

"I'm sure they're going to talk a lot about the changes,'' Abbrederis said.

So how are they each going to frame their response to these inevitable transition questions? Listen. Borland says, "Developing trust and getting to know all the new people in the program is the biggest thing.'' White says, "Everybody is going to have a good opportunity and a new slate.'' Abbrederis says, "All the players have accepted the coaching staff really well. There really wasn't much push-back.''

That will be their message in Chicago where each Big Ten school will have three players at the annual preseason meetings. Said Borland, "No way do I take it lightly. I know it's important." Said White, "It means a lot and I'm honored to have been chosen.'' Said Abbrederis, "It's a privilege to represent our team. It will be kind of cool to talk to other guys (in the conference) who have been successful as well.''

Mike Lucas
UWBadgers.com Insider

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A year ago, Montee Ball was the UW headliner at the Kickoff Luncheon. Joining him were linebacker Mike Taylor and left tackle Rick Wagner. This year's trio has its own area code uniqueness. Borland is a fifth-year senior from Ohio (Kettering), White is a fourth-year senior from Florida (Fort Lauderdale), Abbrederis is a fifth-year senior and former walk-on from central Wisconsin (Wautoma).

All are accomplished college football players, so much so that they've shown up on multiple 2013 preseason watch lists. White is a candidate for the Doak Walker and Maxwell Award, Abbrederis for the Biletnikoff and Hornung Award, and Borland for the Lott IMPACT and Bronko Nagurski Trophy, along with the Bednarik, Butkus and Lombardi Award. That's five watch lists in all for Borland.

Not that he's counting, because he isn't. "It's a nice honor,'' Borland said, "but I think it has more to do with what you've done in the past. I'm just focused on playing well this season.''

Abbrederis believes the national exposure is warranted for Borland. "He's a great player,'' he said, "and he has done a lot of good things and put himself in a position to have that (recognition).''

To this end, Abbrederis was on the 2012 Biletnikoff watch list, but he wasn't among the finalists: West Virginia's Stedman Bailey, Baylor's Terrance Williams and USC's Marqise Lee, the returning winner.

"It's an honor that the success I've had the past couple of years has been noticed,'' said Abbrederis, a semifinalist for the 2012 Burlsworth Trophy won by Penn State's Matt McGloin.

"But it (the notoriety) really doesn't mean anything until the end of the season and we see how I've played. Obviously you want to be a finalist. That means you've lived up the actual watch list.

"Hopefully I can live up to the hype.''

The same can be said of his UW teammates.

•  •  •  • 


peculating on what he may be asked in Chicago, White said, "Do I think I can be an every-down back? How do I feel going into the season being it's my first year starting? Questions like that probably.'' Pausing to reflect on his first three seasons, he added, "It has gone by fast. But it (being a starter) is an opportunity I've been waiting on for my whole career, so I'm just ready to attack it at full speed.''

Despite rushing for over 1,000 yards as a freshman, White has been overshadowed by John Clay and/or Ball.  But he did come out of the spring as the No. 1 tailback on the depth chart, ahead of Melvin Gordon. "It's definitely exciting,'' White said. "But it doesn't change my approach to practice or anything else. I still have to go out and compete with the running backs. We can make one another better.''

Although he has started just twice in 39 career games -- UTEP and Purdue this past season -- White is the second-leading rusher among active FBS running backs with 2,571 yards. Only USC's Silas Redd, the former Penn State tailback, has rushed for more (2,583). White is also averaging 6.09 yards per carry, which is No. 1 in school history, ahead of Ron Dayne (5.84) and Ball (5.60).

In preparation for the 2013 season, White has been "watching more film than ever'' while fine-tuning his game. "I'm definitely trying to be sharp on my cuts,'' he said. "That's something where I feel like I excel, in the open field. So I feel like whenever I have a one-on-one situation I should always win. I'm constantly working on that (cutting), on catching the ball out of the backfield and pass protections.''

"In some aspects, it's hard to lead when you have so many leaders in our group,'' Abbrederis said. "Our leadership has come from a bunch of different guys. A lot of our (senior) class has been on the field since basically our freshman year.''

White is looking forward to mentoring some of the younger players, including freshman tailback Corey Clement. "We have all welcomed the freshmen with open arms and treated them with respect,'' White said. "We'll help them out and they'll know exactly what is going to hit them come fall camp. We have a lot of guys who have played who can talk to the young guys, we have a lot of leaders.''

The Badgers have a wealth of seniors. "In some aspects, it's hard to lead when you have so many leaders in our group,'' suggested Abbrederis. "Our leadership has come from a bunch of different guys. A lot of our (senior) class has been on the field since basically our freshman year. Having that type of experience helps in controlling what you can control and bringing along guys in your position group.''

This summer, Abbrederis has been working on his release against press-man coverage, his route-running and his quickness, especially getting in and out of breaks. Asked about catching passes from the competing quarterbacks, he said, "I think we'll be good at that position.''

What about the additional pressure of being the UW's only proven wide receiver? He made the point of saying that if you "play the game in fear'' you can't live up to expectations. "I really don't think about what anybody puts on me,'' he said. "I never worry about that because if you do, you're going to drown in all of the thoughts. I just want to play the way I have been playing the past couple of years.''

Abbrederis will be one of three wideouts in Chicago, joining Indiana's Kofi Hughes, who was third on the Hoosiers behind Shane Wynn and Cody Latimer; and Nebraska's Quincy Enunwa, who was second on the Cornhuskers behind Kenny Bell. Penn State has elected not to travel the conference's leading receiver, Allen Robinson, a sophomore. Abbrederis was third in receiving yards (64.4).

"It's crazy to think my fifth year is right around the corner,'' Abbrederis said. "I've got one semester left and I'm done. I just feel like I came in here yesterday as the young guy.''

One of the questions that he figures to hear this week, "How can we keep it going?''

The Badgers have gone to three straight Rose Bowls.

"We've had some good seasons but we really have never finished the way we wanted,'' Abbrederis said. "So this is our last chance, the last time to stamp our name on the Badgers football program (as seniors), to finish it off like we've always wanted. That's the mindset of all of our guys.''

Borland is on the same page. "Last year people pointed to the fact that there were two teams in our division (Ohio State and Penn State) that were ineligible and they kind of said that's why we made it (to Pasadena),'' he related. "There's some credibility to that. We didn't always play our best.''

Borland will be playing for his fourth position coach at linebacker in four seasons. The roll call includes Dave Doeren (now the head coach at NC State), Dave Huxtable (now Doeren's defensive coordinator), Andy Buh (now the defensive coordinator at California) and Dave Aranda (who has taken over as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator under Andersen).

"As much adjusting as we've had to do with different coaches -- and each has their own philosophy and little quotes that they would like you to live by -- I think being exposed to different brands of football has been really beneficial to us,'' Borland said.

"Coach Doeren was a Midwestern guy, Coach Hux was from the South, and Coach Buh was from California. Now we have Coach Aranda (who has ties to Hawaii) who runs a 3-4 defense. As senior, we've learned a lot of football over the last four seasons, which I think is actually helpful.''

What about the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4? Borland expects that question in Chicago.

"We're not quite as downhill,'' he said. "We slow-play things initially and you could see the struggle the guys were having in the spring myself included just because we're so used to coming downhill. But this defense requires you to read a little bit before you make that decision.''

Borland likes the feel and the fit of the 3-4. "If the defensive line is doing a good job, which we expect them to do, it allows you to run around and make plays,'' he said. "You don't have to take on quite as many blocks and that frees you up to cover more distance.''

A couple of quarterbacks, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, will carry the highest profiles nationally and headline the 2013 Big Ten Media Days. Meanwhile, Borland will be one of five linebackers featured at the event, along with Michigan State's Max Bullough, Penn State's Glenn Carson and Iowa's Christian Kirksey and James Morris.

"We see each other on film all the time in preparation for other tam's offenses,'' Borland said of the league's linebacker fraternity. "It will be fun to get to know these guys a little more and nice to put a face to some of the names that I keep hearing. It kind of says a lot if they're asking you to go down to Chicago and represent the university and team for media days. I'm happy to be one of our three guys.''

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