Taylor Building Week to Week

After three seasons at Wisconsin, junior linebacker Mike Taylor has yet to make it through a spring or fall camp 100 percent healthy. Knock on wood but with four practices to go, Taylor has not only been healthy, he's been showing people what's he capable of.

MADISON - It's a rare sight to see: linebacker Mike Taylor healthy and uninhibited. It's something him and the UW coaches are banking on to continue after what has been a spotty track record.

There's still four practices left for Wisconsin, but it'll be big for Taylor to come out of a camp healthy, seeing as he's yet to make it through a spring or fall camp injury free. He took a medical redshirt his first season after having neck surgery to clear up an old injury from when he was a championship high school wrestler at Ashwaubenon High outside Green Bay. The following fall brought groin and hamstring problems, and he tore through scar tissue from his ACL tear last fall in the third week of practice.

Taylor missed the opener against UNLV, but had a solid three week stretch in the middle of UW's season – combining for 22 tackles and 5.5 TFLs against Austin Peay, Michigan State and Minnesota – and, after yet another injury, finished the season strong with 22 tackles and an interception in the final three games.

Now with his injury problems hopefully behind him, Taylor looks to take his game to the next level and replace the Badgers' two senior starters, something he shared with Badger Nation Thursday.

Badger Nation: Talk to me about building the depth with this linebacker group. You are still waiting to get Chris Borland back, but that gives some opportunity to get some new guys into the lineup. Who has impressed you?

Taylor: Well right now, Marcus Trotter in the middle brings a lot of energy. It took him awhile to see the plays and get to know the playbook, but he's coming along and playing fast. He's making a lot of plays out there. Cameron Ontko is showing up with the twos. He's at the weakside and switching positions, but he's out there banging heads, playing fast and likes to play hard. He's really tough.

Badger Nation: Talk about a linebacker meeting and game planning against the offense. Is the main motivation now at this point of the year to a) get better and b) shut down the UW offense?

Taylor: The point of spring ball is to get acclimated to football again after a break, putting some pads on to hit, exercise the mind and see things to get back to football fundamentals. Right now, that's what we are taking advantage of. Seeing the little things the offense does and stopping that is going to give us an advantage heading into the fall.

Badger Nation: Talk about you taking advantage of this spring. What has been the big benefit to you, especially with you being healthy throughout camp?

Taylor: To me, being able to build week to week and actually being out there to build on those physical reps and take those mental reps is huge. The last camps I had, I was out the first day or the first week and I didn't get to see a lot of action. Now being in there for all those plays and get those reps and muscle memory is key for getting down my reads and my keys.

Badger Nation: If I remember correctly, you were playing with one arm and basically on one leg at the end of the Iowa game. That's your personality in general isn't it that if you can walk, you can play?

Taylor: (laughing) Last year was kind of a difficult year. I wouldn't say I was ever really 100 percent. Last year before the Iowa game, from Arizona State through Ohio State, I would say I felt my best injury wise. After that, I just had to play through it and man up. If you can run, you can play, and that's the mentality of a linebacker for sure. If you love the sport, the game and the run and hit, why wouldn't you be out there?

Badger Nation: That was Coach Doeren's philosophy. Is that also Coach Dave Huxtable's philosophy?

Taylor: Coach Hux is totally about attitude and having that linebacker mentality of ‘if you are out there, you are playing hard and you are getting after them.'

Badger Nation: It seems it's been a good transition because that's the attitude of this team and that's the attitude of Coach Ben Herbert in winter conditioning. What did you think of the drills as far as your group going and you growing in terms of strength and chemistry?

Taylor: Well, we lost two seniors in Blake Sorensen and Culmer St. Jean and people say we're young and inexperienced, but we have myself, Chris, Kevin Claxton, Conor O'Neill and A.J. Fenton that all have some game experience. We're a really tight group in the weight room, talking together, lifting together and watching film together. We're friends and like playing together, and building that friendship and bond is helping us be a strong unit.

Badger Nation: Did you make a lot of physical gains?

Taylor: Last year was just a struggle to get back to where I was. It was going uphill and when I got to the peak of normalcy, it was like, ‘how can I build on this to gain that extra strength?' That's what I worked on, getting that full recovery and building on that. I added about 10 pounds and I feel good. I feel the same as I did before.

Badger Nation: What's it like when you are able to play at full strength? You've had those moments, like that three week stretch early last season, and knowing that, how special is that?

Taylor: It's just a confidence booster. You just feel good and you don't think about playing hurt or injured. You don't play hesitant and you can play fluidly. It just feels great being able to fun around, bend your knees and not worrying about cutting or slowing down. It feels great.

Badger Nation: I don't want to say you guys missed have Chris because of how successful you were last season, but what does Borland add to the group?

Taylor: He's always full go and has a huge motor. I think what we lose with Chris is when others see him making plays and putting all this effort in, it's going to push us more. If we're trusting him and he's making plays, he's going to trust us to make plays and go just as hard and do the same things. I think when you have a guy that goes full speed, it's going to rub off on you and make you better.

Badger Nation: You guys have yet to play a full game together in two years. What do you think it's going to be like with both of you 100 percent healthy and in the middle of this defense?

Taylor: I like to call him Chris the Bull. When you have in the middle, he just likes to bully the linemen. Having Chris is there and being able to rely on him and trust him, it's going to be hopefully phenomenal in watch him. Hopefully it'll boost all the linebackers.


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