Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Football: Quick transition puts Edwards in key role for Wisconsin defense

Jason Chan

It’s been a year of change for T.J. Edwards.

Before college, Edwards had never played linebacker. Less than a year later, he is the presumed starter at inside linebacker heading into fall camp.

Four months ago, he was a redshirt and still has never played a snap as a member of the University of Wisconsin football team.


He went from scout team member to starter in what seemed like a blink of the eye.

Throughout high school, Edwards, a Lake Villa, Illinois native, played and excelled at quarterback, amassing a 17-3 career record while throwing for more than 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns. The only time he played defense was at safety in three games during his senior year, he said. In those three games he recorded 20 tackles, two sacks and an interception.

Edwards said his physicality and toughness made him okay with the switch to defense when he arrived in Madison.

“I’ve always been that physical type. I love that contact, so playing in the box isn’t that big of a jump,” Edwards said. “Just the technique and the footwork and stuff like that is the stuff that I’m focusing on.”

When he got to campus, Wisconsin had two future all-conference linebackers in Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter ahead of him. Then-head coach Gary Andersen was straight-up with Edwards: He could sacrifice a year of eligibility by seeing limited action on special teams or he could redshirt.

Edwards chose to redshirt and use that season to work on adjusting to linebacker.

The graduation of both Landisch and Trotter, as well as Michael Trotter, Marcus’ twin and third inside linebacker in the rotation, left a gaping hole at the position.

Enter T.J. Edwards.

To Edwards, being an inside linebacker is more than being at the center of the defense.

“It’s awesome to say that I’m a backer,” Edwards said. “Not even in the role yet, but I can say I’m an inside linebacker with those guys, and I hope to just kind of fill in my role, make my own path and build my own legacy.”

A major component of his transformation to linebacker was the countless hours he has spent watching film, and it has significantly contributed to his growth, he said. Whether it’s a text from defensive coordinator Dave Aranda encouraging a film session with his unit or watching on his iPad, Edwards has spent a considerable amount of time this offseason learning the position.

“If you know what you’re doing, you can play fast,” Edwards said. “You don’t have to be the most athletic or the most talented.”

Edwards will emerge into the starting role alongside sophomore Leon Jacobs, who saw some time at linebacker last season. Edwards said Jacobs has helped him with nuances like recognizing the offense’s formations, and he said it’s his goal to get to that level by the start of the season, when Wisconsin opens up against Alabama Sept. 6.

“Leon’s been there since day one helping me out a lot,” Edwards said. “He’s a really smart player.”

Edwards’ tenure at linebacker formally began this past Saturday at the annual spring game, when he was nothing short of impressive. Playing for the first time in front of a crowd at linebacker, Edwards made nine tackles, leading the first team defense. He also added a sack.

To Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst, Edwards’ success comes as little surprise given the work ethic he’s displayed, which includes the hours of watching film.

“I think T.J. has done a nice job,” Chryst said. “I love the way he has approached it. And because of his approach he has some things he has done well, so it gives him confidence. I think he is building on that.”

“It is important to him. He is wanting to grow. He is wanting to learn. You see him a little bit more comfortable in situations.”

Edwards’ teammates have noticed, too. Redshirt junior outside linebacker Vince Biegel used words like “proud” and “impressed” to describe his progression.

“I cannot say enough about him and the maturity he’s brought and how much better he’s got in the short spring ball period of time,” Biegel said. “I’m really looking forward to what he can do for us during the season.”

Biegel said Edwards’ experience at quarterback gave him the basic knowledge of every position on the field and eased his transition to linebacker, adding that his hard work will pay off this upcoming season.

“He’s a smart guy and most importantly he wants to get better,” Biegel said. “All the credit to T.J., he’s a hard worker and he’s gonna be a great player for us.”

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