When you enter the world of college football as a true freshman, nothing is handed to you; you have to earn your playing time. A year after playing in just a handful of games during his first year, Indiana’s Greg Middleton got his chance to start as a sophomore and developed into one of the best pass rushers in the nation.
At 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, Middleton has the size, strength, speed and technique it takes to be a dominant force at the defensive end position. As a first year starter, Middleton recorded 50 tackles and 16 sacks; not bad for sophomore competing in a conference that has an abundance of talent on the offensive line.
In this Scout.com exclusive, Chris Steuber asked Middleton about his breakout sophomore season and what he has to do this year to surpass that production, his ability as a run defender, the affect the loss of Tracy Porter and James Hardy will have on Indiana this season and much more.
Chris Steuber: You had a breakout season last year that put you on the map as one of the country’s top defensive ends. What do you attribute to the success you experienced?
Greg Middleton: I’m blessed, because God gave me the ability to play football. I think my success is attributed to the hard work that I put in and just being hungry. I’ve had a good group of coaches here at Indiana, and they’ve taught me a lot, especially the technique that I’ve learned. I think a lot of people have helped my development.
CS: What did you learn from your freshman year to your sophomore year that helped your progression last year?
Middleton: I think I was in better condition; I knew that I had to be in better shape after my freshman year, because I was going to be playing more snaps. I wanted to get my body prepared, and mentally I knew I had to watch more film. I wanted to find out tendencies on offensive lineman and what the opposing team is doing on the offensive side of the ball. I just tried to pick up on the little things that will give me the edge in the game.
CS: If you were asked to classify yourself as a pass rusher or a run defender, how would you respond?
Middleton: I think I play both really well. I’m probably not as good as a run defender as I am a pass rusher, but I think I can defend both areas very well.
CS: Is defending the run better a main concentration of yours entering the upcoming season?
Middleton: For the most part, I think I defend the run pretty well. I had a terrible game last year against Michigan State and I’m hard on myself, so I’m just going to make sure that I’m ready for that game this year, as well as the rest of the games in the Big Ten and outside of the conference.
CS: You played sparingly during your freshman season, and as a sophomore you were thrown into the fire as a starter. How was the transition from being a situational player to a starter in the Big Ten?
Middleton: The [Big Ten] conference is one of the best, but it’s not as great as some of the others. From a college standpoint, and running the ball with big offensive linemen, it’s one of the best in college football. Coming in as a sophomore and starting, I kind of shocked myself coming in and doing things that I was able to do. But like I said, I think I worked hard, and God gave me the ability to do this.
Middleton emerged as one of the premier pass rushers in the country last year; this year he wants to develop his run defense.
CS: What’s your workout regime like during the off-season to prepare your body for the rigorous demands you face during the season?
Middleton: I do a lot of core and resistance training to work the small muscles. I work with some of the coaches back home in Indianapolis that I’ve been working with for a while. I work on my technique and condition myself in practice. I work extremely hard in practice and show that I can make plays all over the field.
CS: Conditioning during the off-season plays a major part in a player’s success during the season, and last year your hard work paid off and resulted in a 16-sack season. Looking ahead, how do you duplicate or surpass the production you realized a year ago?
Middleton: I don’t know about duplicating; I’m not going to have the same exact season that I had last year, but I have goals set for myself, and I look forward to accomplishing those things. I’ve worked hard this off-season, and we’ll see what happens.
CS: How did your conditioning change this off-season as you enter your junior year compared to the time between your freshman season going into your sophomore year?
Middleton: I gained a little weight, and now I’m just trying to get into shape. With the weight that I have on me right now; my conditioning never falls off too bad, as long as I keep working out. But for the most part I just put on more weight, and now I have to get comfortable at my size.
CS: What players in the NFL do you try to pattern your game after?
Middleton: Dwight Freeney and Michael Strahan.
CS: Do you consider yourself more as a speed rusher or a defensive end who relies more on technique?
Middleton: [Pause]… I’d say I have a combination of both, and that’s why I watch both of those guys. As a pass rusher, my speed needs some work, and that’s what I’ve been trying to improve on. I’d say for the most part, that I’m just a good all-around pass rusher. I’m able to set up an opponent pretty well throughout the game and beat him with my God-given ability.
CS: As we move closer to your junior campaign; a junior year is the most crucial. There will be a lot of temptation after the season, especially if you produce the way you did as a sophomore. Have you given any consideration to your future as an NFL player and if so, is declaring early for the NFL Draft a possibility?
Middleton: I’ve heard talk about where I can be and what I can do, but I just want to take care of getting through camp and understand what the coaches are trying to teach me to have a good season. I’m not really too focused on what’s going to happen after the season; I’m just focused on this season and the team’s success.
CS: How much of an affect will losing James Hardy and Tracy Porter to the NFL have on your team this season?
Middleton: I wouldn’t say it will affect our team a lot, but they’re definitely good players. Obviously they’re in the NFL, but I feel like we have a lot of people who can step up and make plays. We have some freshman wide receivers that I’ve seen that look pretty good and some corners that came in last year that I feel can take Tracy’s spot. I don’t know if they can do everything that he did, but we’re more talented up front, so opposing quarterbacks won’t have a lot of time to sit back there and take advantage of their inexperience.
CS: What’s a successful season this year for you personally and for the team?
Middleton: We want to win the Big Ten. We want to beat Purdue; that’s our biggest rival. And, win a bowl game. Personally, I want to help our team with whatever I can do to get to that point. I’ll be drawing a lot of double teams, but I just want to make our defense better by being a good player.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.