Wisconsin reloading at linebacker as it enters 2018

Junior linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel returned an interception for a touchdown and forced and recovered a fumble in Wisconsin's Big Ten Championship loss to Ohio State. He's hoping to improve on his late-season success next season. 

Junior linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel returned an interception for a touchdown and forced and recovered a fumble in Wisconsin's Big Ten Championship loss to Ohio State. He's hoping to improve on his late-season success next season. 

Image By: Brandon Moe

It took Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards just 48 hours after UW’s Orange Bowl victory to make his decision to return to UW. In doing so, Edwards is looking to guide a linebacker unit that is aiming to carry the Badgers’ defense. He’s not alone, however, as Wisconsin has a plethora of options capable of making plays in the middle of its defense.

Edwards started all 14 games at inside linebacker in 2017, earning first team All-American and All-Big Ten recognition in addition to being a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award, which is given to the best linebacker in the nation. But he’s looking to take on more of a leadership role this season.

“Being a redshirt senior now, it’s my time to really take control of this defense with my voice,” Edwards said. “I think it’s something that Connelly, Orr and I have to really channel. Chris talks all day so I’m sure he can do that in his sleep but for me and Connelly we really have to be more vocal with this team.”

Edwards wouldn’t have come back if he didn’t think Wisconsin had the team in place for a special 2018.

“I really want to be part of history and I truly believe that this team coming back is a team that can do that,” Edwards said.

But, with the loss of Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs, the Badgers have two big holes to fill at outside linebacker. Junior Zack Baun and senior Andrew Van Ginkel, however, are primed to fill those openings.

“I just want to be a playmaker,” Van Ginkel said. “If our team needs a momentum boost, I want to be the guy who can spark us, to make a big play when we really need one.”

Van Ginkel played in all 14 games in 2017, but was used mostly as a role player behind Dooley and Jacobs. He’s looking to improve his pass rushing ability and become a more consistent force on the outside in hopes of becoming a main piece in the Badger defense.

“I also want to be a leader,” he added. “I want to push guys to continue to make big plays themselves and to be the best version of themselves they can be.”

Zack Baun hopes to fill the other outside linebacker spot across from Van Ginkel. Baun hoped to play a major role one the Badgers in 2017, but missed the entire season due to a foot injury he suffered in preseason.

Now finally healthy again, Baun has no doubt about what he hopes to accomplish in 2018.

“I’m trying to start, that’s my goal,” Baun said. “I’m trying to be a key guy on this defense, which I’ve been waiting for. I anticipated that coming in. I feel like it’s finally my time. It should’ve been my time last year, but now it’s really time for me to lock in.

“I know I can do it but I just have to prove to my coaches and teammates that I can.”

Tim Tibesar, UW’s outside linebackers coach for the past three seasons, left this offseason to become the defensive coordinator at Oregon State. The Badgers hired Bobby April to replace him, who most recently spent six seasons in the NFL. He has quickly made an impression with the Badgers.

“He’s incorporated a lot more different techniques and has been more aggressive — putting us in more situations to make plays,” Baun said.

"He knows what we all expect of ourselves, he continues to push us and he continues to teach us new things,” Van Ginkel added.

There will certainly be a transitional period with the loss of Dooley and Jacobs, but the players poised to step up feel confident.

“We don’t rebuild,” Van Ginkel said, “we reload."

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