University of Wisconsin sophomore outside linebacker Mike Taylor was adding up the practices in his head.
During three years on the team, Taylor has endured three significant injuries that have caused him to spend a lot more time watching than participating.
After tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Iowa last season, Taylor returned at the start of preseason camp and lasted exactly two and one-quarter practices.
“I think overall, these past three years, I’ve had seven or eight practices,” Taylor said with a pained expression after a practice this week.
He was exaggerating, to make a point — but not much.
Still, when he was on the field for seven games last season, he was one of the best players on defense.
Taylor will not only make his season debut against San Jose State Saturday, he will start, UW coach Bret Bielema said after practice on Thursday. That is mostly because the other outside linebacker, sophomore Chris Borland, is not expected to play due a shoulder injury he suffered last week.
“If Chris was playing, I don’t know if we’d start (Taylor),” Bielema said.
Senior Blake Sorensen, who filled in for Taylor last week, will start in Borland’s place.
When asked after practice on Wednesday how much he could play on Saturday, Taylor was unsure.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I think practice is different from the game. Like last game, I felt great (during warmups). Adrenaline kicked in and I felt normal again.
“(During) practice this week, it still feels pretty good. I’ve been doing everything. I’m not sure how many reps, maybe quite a few. It really depends how it feels.”
Fortunately for the Badgers, Taylor has been effective in the past playing with limited practice. During preseason camp, defensive coordinator Dave Doeren called Taylor “probably the best fundamental guy we have.”
Coaches also rave about Taylor’s instincts at a position where a false step can be the difference in making a tackle or not. Combine that with speed and athleticism and it’s easy to see why Taylor is such an important part of the defense.
“Mike’s a big-play guy,” Bielema said. “He’s a guy who has the ability, athleticism, similar to Chris. (Taylor) just can make some plays that others can’t.”
Taylor couldn’t practice until November of his redshirt year in 2008, following neck surgery to repair a problem with a bone spur.
The following spring, he missed all but two practices with a pulled hamstring.
He injured the other hamstring early in preseason camp last year before the pads came out. That turned out to be relatively minor and he missed about eight days.
Then came the torn ACL against Iowa on Oct. 17 and the long rehabilitation that followed, causing him to miss all of last spring.
When camp started this year, Taylor felt ready to go. “I wouldn’t say (it felt) right. It felt to the point I could play,” Taylor said.
It didn’t last long. It was determined after fewer than three full practices that Taylor had to go in for more surgery Aug. 17. He was supposed to miss two to four more weeks.
Taylor got some good news after the most recent surgery.
“The doctor went in there, he said there was no damage, just scar tissue — the most he has ever seen around my tendon,” Taylor said. “So, he took that out. That was really encouraging. He was really excited.”
Taylor has been making good progress ever since. He was in uniform for the opener at UNLV, went through pregame and felt good enough to play. However, since he had not practiced during the week, he was held out.
“I think I could have played, but it’s probably smart not to,” he said.
Taylor had some swelling in the knee after practice Wednesday.
“I had two surgeries on it,” he said. “It’s probably going to swell up for quite a while now. I just have to control that, take care of it, get treatment three times a day, just kind of work on it to keep it down.”
Despite his frustration over the injuries and lack of practice time, Taylor is not about to change the way he plays.
“I still play the way I play and go after it,” he said. “It’s kind of part of the game. Some guys just get hurt. That’s kind of what happens.”