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MADISON – Linebacker T.J. Edwards and cornerback Nick Nelson appear comfortable preparing for the Orange Bowl while mulling whether to return to Wisconsin for their senior seasons or enter the 2018 NFL draft.
“I think it is an awesome position to be in,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said after practice Tuesday. “To put yourself in position to be able to play football at the next level is special. That doesn’t happen to everybody.
“They’ve been extremely productive (for) us. Would you love them to come back? Great. But it might not be in their best interests.
“I think as coaches we just try to get them as much information as possible and correct information that they can go off of so they’re not guessing.
you hope they make it,“If it is the right decision for them,
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, whether that is to go or to stay.”
Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft,
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, set for April 26-28.
both consensus first-team all-Big Ten picks this season,
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,Edwards and Nelson,
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, have been critical contributors on a unit ranked No. 3 nationally in points allowed (13.2 per game).
Edwards enters the Orange Bowl second on UW in tackles (75),
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, tied for second in tackles for loss (11) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (four).
He doesn’t have the tackle totals of other Big Ten linebackers, but he plays in UW’s base defense and nickel package because he can stuff the run and drop into coverage.
who sat out last season after transferring from Hawaii,Nelson, does not have an interception and sometimes draws penalties because of his tendency to grab but he has 20 passes broken up.
That is the No. 1 mark on the team and twice as many as UW's No. 2 player, safety Natrell Jamerson (10).
According to a source close to the program, the coaches knew early on Nelson was good enough to turn pro after the ’17 season if he chose.
Nelson has insisted his focus is on the Orange Bowl and he has yet to submit paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board.
Edwards is waiting for more feedback before he discusses his options with his parents.
“I’m just having fun being out here with the guys,” he said. “I still have a little time left before I have to make that final decision.
“When that time comes, I’ll make that decision…
“I’m more worried about sending these seniors out right and playing our best football.”
UW recently extended a scholarship offer to linebacker Will Honas,
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, a sophomore at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan.
However, the source close to the program cautioned that offer wasn’t extended because the staff knows Edwards is leaving.
“I think the biggest thing is just my gut feeling in general, too,” Edwards said when asked what factors he is considering. “Just looking back at what I’ve done here and what I still need to do. My family is big,
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, how they are feeling about the whole thing.”
Edwards led UW in tackles in each of his first two seasons but vowed before this season to improve as a player and a leader.
“I had two years of starting experience,
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,” he said,
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, “and I just thought it was time to expect more of myself and be more for this team.”
Leonhard, who played 10 seasons in the NFL, believes Edwards has achieved that goal.
“He does it every single play for us, leadership,” he said, citing Edwards’ instincts, pass game, physical play and leadership skills. “He brings a lot to the table in the run game, physicality, the whole 9 yards.
“He has received a lot of accolades for how he played this season and it is well deserved.
“Once again, it is awesome for those guys to put themselves in a position to go to the next level.”
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