Monday night was a long time coming for Jets safety Doug Middleton, who started his first NFL game in the Jets' Week 1 win at the Lions. Middleton had previously played in just four games, all in 2016, when he was an undrafted rookie. He missed all of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.
He got the starting nod in Detroit because free safety Marcus Maye (foot) was sidelined. Maye is listed as doubtful for Sunday's home opener against Miami, so Middleton likely will start for him again.
Before going undrafted, Middleton played at Appalachian State, because he was a lightly recruited player who didn't get much attention from larger schools. We spoke with Middleton this week about his first start and his winding journey to this point.
Middleton played well in Detroit, where he had five tackles and one pass breakup.
What was your first start like?
"It was fun, man. A lot of things I can learn from. A lot of things I can do better. But it was a lot of fun."
What do you think you can improve upon?
"Just making sure I’m more exact with my technique, making sure I’m more detailed on certain things, and just finishing every play."
What happened on that deep-ball pass breakup in the end zone Monday?
"It was Cover 2. We had two verts [vertical routes] on my side. I split both of them. And then [Matthew Stafford] rolled out to the right. I just plastered, is the term that we use. He threw it up to Marvin Jones and I was there."
What do you mean by 'plastered'?
"Plastered means that when the quarterback scrambles around, you pretty much lock on to the nearest receiver."
Were you confident you'd be able to break up that pass?
"I was trying to pick the ball, but my feet started stumbling a little bit, so I couldn’t get a good jump on it. I was able to jump enough to break it up, though."
Any nerves before Monday's game?
"Not really nerves. I was just excited, man. I was just glad to have the opportunity, thankful that my coaches trusted me enough."
What pregame advice did Marcus Maye offer you?
"Just to be detailed. Just make sure that I see the whole picture and that each play I could communicate great with my guys out there, and make sure everybody is on the same page."
What did it mean to overcome last year's injury and earn a role this year?
"The way this league works, you’ve got to prove and reprove yourself every single day. I don’t take it for granted. I work my butt off every single day, and I’ve still got a lot to prove, too."
What do you think you showed the coaches in the preseason?
"That they can trust me and that I’m dependable and I’ll always be in the right spot. Just being able to stay consistent."
Do you still play with the chip on your shoulder of a lightly recruited guy?
"It’s definitely more of an inside chip on my shoulder, even being undrafted. Just some of the treatment that other guys get that you see throughout the league, and the amount of opportunities a first-rounder might have compared to a guy who is undrafted. When you’re undrafted or you come out of a small school, you don’t really have many chances to have success. You don’t have many chances to make mistakes. You’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity you have."
Did you know this coming out of college, or did you have to learn it?
"I was very aware. I knew it was going to be like that. Guys told me that if you’re undrafted, a first-round guy is going to have five reps and you’re going to have one rep. You’re going to have to show as much as you can in that one rep as that guy did in five reps. I knew that when I got here. It was more about taking advantage of the opportunity I had, and making the best of it."