Healthy at Last

When Wisconsin played UNLV last season, Mike Taylor was on his way in and Chris Borland was on his way out. This year, Taylor is healthy and confident in his knee and Borland isn't far behind, giving the Badgers two solid contributors in the middle of their defense.

MADISON - For the second straight season, the University of Wisconsin opens the season in primetime against UNLV. It might seem like a familiar starting point for some Badgers, but not for redshirt junior linebacker Mike Taylor.

Suffering a torn ACL in his right knee in Week 7 of the 2009 season, Taylor missed all of spring practices the following season with the hope of making his return in Las Vegas. But when he tweaked the same knee during a team practice, Taylor was fearful that it was another ACL problem, and that his season would be over before it started.

Fortunately for Taylor, the ACL was sound and scar tissue was removed in a minor operation. Fortunately for Wisconsin, Taylor has shown no lingering effects.

"My health is good, my knee is at 100 percent." said Taylor, saying he feels more confident in his health than before. "When you are healthy you feel better, you can run better. When you are able to do that, you feel more confident."

Taylor made his season debut the next week and saw his confidence slowly grow as the season progressed. In his final three games, Taylor registered 22 tackles and an interception, helping him finish second on the team in TFLs, tied for second in interceptions and tied for third in tackles.

"This season," Taylor said. "I'm going to do the best I can do, minimize mistakes and do my job."

In fact, Taylor had been moving and working so well at the beginning of fall camp that first-year linebackers coach Dave Huxtable didn't know Taylor had past knee problems until head coach Bret Bielema mentioned something in passing.

"When we opened up camp, he was moving as good as I've ever seen him move," Huxtable said. "You can tell that being healthy is giving him a lot of confidence."

A healthy Taylor combined with a healthy Chris Borland should make No.11 Wisconsin have one of the best linebacker punches in the conference. Just as Taylor was coming back from injury last season, Borland was on his way out, as he played in just two games before a shoulder injury forced him to redshirt.

In preparation for the 2011 football season, both Borland and Taylor have gone through a lot of rehab, working out and film watching getting ready for Thursday.

"It's easy to see they have instincts," Bielema said. "You get excited when the two of them are in there together because you see the potential."

This year is a different story for Taylor and the UW defense. Returning 11 defensive players who have started at least one game for Wisconsin, confidence for the UW defense is going strong and ready to stop the schemes of the UNLV offense, which is a lot younger and different than last season.

"They have different players, different strengths, and there are a few different plays that we haven't seen yet." Taylor said. "(The) toughest offense right now is UNLV that's what we are focusing on is UNLV."

The only familiar face is sophomore Tim Cornett. Last season, Cornett became the first freshman in school history to lead the team in rushing (546 yards on 144 carries). Solid numbers for a team that struggled to a 2-11 finish, but the UW defense has a new strength it didn't have a season before – two instinctual players that will be able to help a loaded defensive line against the run.

"I think we definitely have a connection." said Borland. ""We're struggled with staying healthy, but hopefully we're on the field all year."

With a confident Taylor trusting in his knee, the dark clouds seemed to have final passed.

"He's the guy that's played the most football out of all the linebackers," Huxtable said of Taylor. "He's that guy with the most experience that I think a lot of the guys look up to. I think he really has a great passion for the game. He should be able to really help us this year."

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