HOUSTON -- Linebacker Chris Borland guessed correctly Thursday night, abandoning his responsibility based on his film study and instincts.
It turned out to be the right move, as Borland stepped in front of Houston Texans tight end Ryan Griffin to intercept Tom Savage’s third-quarter pass. Borland returned it 34 yards to get into the end zone for the first time since his final high school game.
“Pre-snap, they had a big split between the second and third receiver,” Borland said. “Oftentimes, that’s a tip for an out-route by the third receiver. I was keyed into it before the snap. We were in Cover-2, though, so I had deep responsibility. It was a little bit of a risk, but it paid off.”
Borland, a third-round draft pick from Wisconsin, demonstrated an uncanny knack to make plays en route to being chosen Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. But that aspect of Borland's game has also been frustrating for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who is trying to get Borland to play his responsibilities.
Based on the fact Michael Wilhoite did not play any defense on Thursday, it appears Wilhoite has won the competition to replace NaVorro Bowman, who is out for at least the first six weeks of the regular season as he rehabs from his knee injury.
Borland said he has not been informed of the decision.
“I haven’t,” he said. “Mike’s had a tremendous camp, so I think he’s got a great shot. Whatever happens, (I’ll) continue to work.”
Borland said he “hopefully” made a case for himself with his play on Thursday, which included a team-high six tackles while playing 30 snaps in the 49ers’ 40-13 victory over the Texans.
“I made some mistakes, but made some plays,” Borland said. “That’s kind of been the story of this preseason. I have some things to improve on, but it could help.
“For me, it’s been a consistent improvement this preseason. That’s one thing they’re looking for from young guys, just get better and better.”