Rookie Linebacker Chris Borland Making Strides in 49ers Defense

Peter Panacy@@PeterPanacyFeatured Columnist IVNovember 3, 2014

Chris Borland is making tremendous efforts in his rookie season.
Chris Borland is making tremendous efforts in his rookie season.USA TODAY Sports

Looking for any bright spots in the San Francisco 49ers' ugly 13-10 Week 9 loss to the St. Louis Rams?

You could do worse than taking a peek at rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland.

In reality, San Francisco's defensive efforts were one of the only positives that emanated out of what was otherwise considered a disastrous loss. The 49ers held Austin Davis and the Rams to just 193 total yards, one touchdown and two field goals.

Had San Francisco's offense pulled its own weight, the game's outcome would have obviously been vastly different. 

But what-ifs do us no good, and we are forced to reconcile with the facts. These facts include the 49ers loss, but they also include Borland's efforts.

Borland led all 49ers with 18 tackles, 15 of which were solo. He also notched three tackles for a loss, making his presence known all over the field as the rookie filled in for Patrick Willis (toe) for the second straight week.

One of these tackles included a suplex-like tackle of Rams running back Tre Mason. FOX's broadcast team suggested the call could have been flagged as an unnecessary roughness penalty, but no such call took place.

Borland's tackle of Mason displayed the rookie's strength and ability.
Borland's tackle of Mason displayed the rookie's strength and ability.Ben Margot/Associated Press

Instead, it stood as a tremendous tackle.

Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com describes another tackle of Mason:

Chris Borland started at inside linebacker for the second straight week, filling in for Willis. The Wisconsin product was at his best late in the first quarter, when he burst through the line of scrimmage to bring running back Tre Mason down in the backfield for a two-yard loss. Borland celebrated with a helmet-smacking dance.

Stuffing the run was a part of Borland's highlights in what otherwise was a forgettable day for San Francisco.

The Rams attempted a total of 27 running plays over the course of the game. Considering Borland's 18 tackles during this process, his accolades certainly stand out as a positive.

Borland's efforts against up-the-gut runs were exemplary.
Borland's efforts against up-the-gut runs were exemplary.USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis was testing the rookie linebacker, according to Taylor Price of 49ers.com. It's safe to say that Borland lived up to those tests and then some.

Yet the biggest thing that stood out in Borland's mind was not his team-high tackles on the day. Rather, it was the mistake in coverage that allowed Rams wideout Kenny Britt to score St. Louis' lone touchdown—a 21-yard score with 1:04 remaining in the first half.

Borland (No. 50) made a mistake in coverage, which allowed Rams WR Kenny Britt to score.
Borland (No. 50) made a mistake in coverage, which allowed Rams WR Kenny Britt to score.USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco's rookie linebacker pointed this out as the one play that marred the rest, via Kevin Lynch of SFGate.com.

It's good to see that Borland has no problems pointing out the areas of his game in which he needs work. He could have easily touted his exceptional efforts in the loss.

Patrick Willis has to be pleased with the efforts of San Francisco's rookie linebacker.
Patrick Willis has to be pleased with the efforts of San Francisco's rookie linebacker.USA TODAY Sports

Borland's future is obviously clouded to a certain extent by the eventual return of Willis. 

It's possible that Borland will continuously be mixed in alongside Willis if the veteran needs added breaks down the stretch. The insurance policy is, at least, proving to be a nice addition while Willis is absent.

Borland's snaps will decrease once Willis returns, but at least it is nice to know that San Francisco has a worthwhile player standing in the creases behind the 49ers' defensive captain.

His maturation will continue to be a fortunate thing to watch moving forward.

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive for 49ers news, insight and analysis.

Follow him @PeterPanacy on Twitter.

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