Bloomington – There are plenty of questions for Coach Bill Lynch's football team, but only one mystery.
What happened to Greg Middleton in 2008?
After leading the nation in sacks as a sophomore in 2007 with 17, the 6'3", 285-pounder's productivity in 2008 dipped more than the Dow Jones Industrials. Middleton's sack total dropped from 17 to four, ranking him third on his own team. His 18 total tackles last season was only about one-third of his 2007 total (50), and he was clearly supplanted by Jammie Kirlew as the team's most formidable pass rusher.
While there were some legitimate reasons behind Middleton's slippage (such as the fact Indiana rarely found itself forcing teams to throw the ball during a 3-9 campaign compared to the 7-6 mark the year before), Middleton's statistical vanishing act was still a mystery, conundrum and enigma all wrapped up into one.
Lynch is well aware of what he's gotten from Middleton in the past – both good and bad.
"There's no question he didn't have the kind of year he had as a sophomore," Lynch said Monday. "I'm sure there are different reasons for that, but we're kind of looking at that as in the past."
What Lynch said he's been encouraged by is what he's seen from Middleton in recent months. After getting a lukewarm reception from pro scouts when he tested his NFL stock last spring, Lynch said it's been a different Greg Middleton this off-season as he prepares for his senior season in Bloomington.
"I think from the time we got back and really got the off-season program officially going in January, he's been a different guy," Lynch said. "He's had a great work ethic. I know our strength and conditioning staff has been very, very impressed with him through the time that we got going in January."
Lynch said Middleton's commitment included making it to every 6 a.m. winter workout at the Mellencamp Pavilion. He then carried that over to spring practice, where his presence was much more reminiscent of his dominance in 2007 compared to his virtual absence in 2008.
"I liked his work ethic and the way he competed," Lynch said.
Now, Lynch is hoping Middleton carries that over to the fall and once again plays like a first-team All-Big Ten caliber player. If he can do that, Indiana could very well have one of the best defensive end tandems in the league – if not the country – considering Kirlew returns after earning first-team all-league honors a year ago with 10 ½ sacks and 19 ½ tackles for loss.
"(Middleton) fell off last year, but if the way he's worked at it in the off-season is any indication, we think he's going to have a big year here in 2009," Lynch said.
Middleton Gives Lynch Reason for Optimism
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