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SANTA CLARA – Linebacker Chris Borland’s instincts helped earn him the distinction of being a first-team All-America.
Those same instincts have gotten him into trouble with 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
“He’s got really good instincts, and sometimes he thinks his instincts are taking him to a play and he’s aborting his own assignment and he’s gotten burned on that a few times,” Fangio said on Tuesday.
It’s all part of the learning process for a rookie entering the NFL. Borland is in competition to win a starting job alongside Patrick Willis for the first half of the season while NaVorro Bowman is out with a knee injury.
Third-year player Michael Wilhoite, who started two games last season with Willis out, is currently lining up with the first-team defense. Borland is also competing against Nick Moody and Shayne Skov.
The 49ers selected Borland in the third round of the draft after being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year following his final season at Wisconsin. Borland had a strong offseason. At one point, coach Jim Harbaugh said Borland had gotten his hands on more passes than any other player. On Tuesday, he intercepted a Josh Johnson pass after a deflection.
But it hasn't all been perfect, according to Fangio.
“He’s got to learn the quarterbacks in this league can be looking here and quickly come back here. He’s been burnt on that a few times,” Fangio said.
“He’s got to learn the line is tighter in the NFL to be instinctive and abort your assignment and go make a play than to stay with your assignment. That just comes through repetition and playing and going against quality offense, quality quarterbacks.”