Bloomington, Ind. – On the field and off, people around the IU football program have been seeing a different Greg Middleton.
As a true freshman, the 6-3, 268-pound defensive lineman from Indianapolis Pike quietly went about his business, playing a back-up role on the interior of IU's defensive front. He was one of a handful of true freshmen to earn playing time, totaling six tackles in five games.
But as the Hoosiers gear up for the 2007 season, IU co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic has targeted Middleton as a potential difference maker on this year's defensive unit. He's been moved to defensive end, where Palcic said he expects him to start opposite Jammie Kirlew. While Middleton is still short on experience, Palcic thinks Middleton could be in for some very big things this fall and for the next three years in an IU uniform.
"He's as talented a defensive lineman as we've had here, and I'm including Victor Adeyanju in that, who's in the NFL," Palcic said. "The kid has some real talent."
Those are strong words, considering Adeyanju started 43 straight games during his IU career and was a fourth-round NFL Draft pick in 2005. It's also encouraging news to IU fans who have been waiting for a consistent pass rushing threat to emerge from the Hoosiers' crop of defensive ends.
Middleton could very well be that player.
"He was a big surprise," Palcic said. "We saw some flashes last year, but everything about him has matured. His attitude, his interaction with the coaches. He was always sort of a quiet kid, and now he comes in and he's talking and he's more confident with things. He's playing that way as well, and he had a great spring."
The IU staff had Middleton at defensive tackle last fall, primarily because they thought his frame was better suited to play on the interior on the line. But as time went on, his combination of size and athleticism made a move to defensive end a possibility, and he spent all of spring ball on the edge.
Now, Palcic believes he has a player who has the tools to be an every-down player.
"He's big enough and strong enough to hold up against the run, and he's a lot more athletic than you think to rush the passer," Palcic said.
Middleton will be a big part of a defensive end rotation that will also include Kirlew, converted linebacker Ryan Marando, Brian Faires and potentially Fabienne Boone. Thanks to his experience at defensive tackle, Middleton could also slide inside to a tackle position on obvious passing downs, something Adeyanju did during his senior season.
"In that nickel package when we bring in Marando, we sometimes would move Middleton down to a tackle and now we've got all pass rushers in there," Palcic said. "When you're trying to get after the passer, he's big enough to be inside and still get a good pass rush. He creates some match-up problems inside there for people because he is so quick."
Middleton's progress and potential is good news for an IU defense that surrendered 32.8 points/game a year ago and ranked last in the Big Ten with only 14 sacks.
"I think he's really excited, but he doesn't know how good he can be," Palcic said. "He's shown flashes, and he's working hard and has a better attitude and all that, but once he figures it all out he'll be really impressive."
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