Leading Off

49ers’ Borland lacks size but has big heart

St. Louis Rams running back Tre Mason, right, is tackled by San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Chris Borland (50) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014.
St. Louis Rams running back Tre Mason, right, is tackled by San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Chris Borland (50) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014. AP

Please stop me if you think you’ve seen this somewhere before.

At five-feet-nothing, a hundred-and-nothing, and no trace of speed with short arms more suitable for an alligator, the odds were against linebacker Chris Borland making it big in college football.

But hard work and determination earned him a scholarship to Wisconsin, where he was a backup until an injury vaulted him into a starting job. He was first-team All-Big Ten Conference his final three seasons, plus Big Ten Linebacker of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

Despite Borland’s 5-foot-11 frame and slower-than-average speed for an inside linebacker, the 49ers drafted him in the third round (77th overall) this offseason, mainly because Borland’s football instincts were off the charts.

“Not tall enough. Not fast enough. Arms are too short. You hear all of that,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said after the draft. “We just love the makeup. We love the player. He’s everything you’re looking for from a DNA standpoint. ... He’s overcome that lack of arm length. He’s overcome that lack of speed that is being talked about.”

And how.

In three games as a starter in place of injured Patrick Willis, Borland has made 42 tackles (33 unassisted). He’s had one sack and recovered Drew Brees’ fumble last Sunday to set up the 49ers’ overtime win in New Orleans.

With Willis out for the season, 49ers fans and the rest of the league will see a lot more of Borland. They’ll see what the 49ers saw and why they drafted him.

No size, no speed and arms that can’t reach the back of the fridge. Maybe it’s more about the size of the fight in the man instead of the size of the man in the fight.

Victor Contreras

vcontreras@sacbee.com


Today’s poll


Tuesday’s poll results

Who should coach the 49ers if Jim Harbaugh leaves?

▪ Jon Gruden: 50%

▪ Greg Roman: 4%

▪ David Shaw: 19%

▪ Jim Tomsula: 6%

▪ Other: 19%

Total votes: 150

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