Checking in with ... Indiana's Greg Middleton

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

No one outside Bloomington, Ind., knew who Greg Middleton was at this time last year. As a freshman, he made a grand total of six tackles (two solo) with no sacks. Indiana tied for 111th nationally in sacks in 2006, and there wasn't much evidence suggesting that things would improve.

Heading into this fall, the name Middleton makes offensive linemen shudder around the Big Ten.

In 2007 he led the nation and set a Hoosiers record with 16 sacks, the fourth-highest single-season total in Big Ten history. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound defensive end had six multi-sack performances and enters his junior season as a top candidate for the Ted Hendricks Award. Double teams are on the way and Middleton knows it, but he's looking forward to finding new routes to the offensive backfield. I spoke with Middleton earlier this week about his expectations, his teammates and the mind games he plays with opposing tackles.

What have you been working on after such a strong season in 2007?

Greg Middleton: Pretty much just working on my speed rush and working on techniques, as far as using my hands and trying to get off blocks a little bit better. I put on about five pounds, but right now, I think I'm a few pounds overweight. I'm probably just going to work it off during camp and get in the best condition that I can.

What type of feedback have you received from the coaches about improving your game?

GM: Just getting in better conditioning, working my hands a little bit better and trying to use a variety of pass rushes to set up the offensive linemen.

Is it really a mind game at the line of scrimmage?

GM: Yeah. You have to play mind games with the offensive line. You've got to set him up, so later in the game, they'll bite on something and you can counter off of that. It's usually whoever has the will to tough it out in the hard times of the games.

Do you enjoy the mental aspect of that position, trying to outthink the tackles?

GM: I do. I like trying to set 'em up and once I can get them thinking that I'm going to do something and counter off of that, I kind of laugh inside, just because I know I shut 'em up throughout the game and what I was trying to do worked. So I look forward to playing those types of mind games with them.

So will you use a move in the first quarter that might not work, just to set them up for later in the game?

GM: It just depends on the scouting. Whatever the weakness is, I just try to expose it. I really don't have a game plan as to what I'm going to do first. It's whatever an offensive lineman is jumping on. Sometimes you set them up and get them late, or sometimes you can get them early. But you're not going to get a good pass rush every time. It's just sometimes the quarterback has to hold the ball and it has to be good coverage, or you just have to have a good pass rush. Everything just has to go well.

Did you exceed your own expectations last year?

GM: I set goals for myself and I exceeded the goal that I wanted as far as sacks. I got one more [16] than my goal was, so in that aspect, I did exceed what I was trying to do. But that was last year. This is a totally different year.

So what is your sacks goal for this year?

GM: I haven't really made up my mind. I'm just trying to focus on helping my team win the 13th game, beat Purdue and win a Big Ten championship. I probably will [come up with a number], just to push myself and set the bar high for myself so that I can just work hard in practice and challenge myself to get better.

Your name is out there now. Do you expect teams to approach you differently?

GM: I definitely do. I know I'm not going to sneak up on anybody like I did last year. Teams are going to be scheming me in their scouting report, and it's going to be a lot harder to get to the quarterback than it was last year. But I'm looking forward to the challenge.

How do you beat those double teams?

GM: I really don't know. Just go hard every play and whenever I can get the single coverage, I'll do my best to expose it. If they're going to double-team me, that means somebody else is going to be free to make the play anyway. As long as we get the win, that's all that matters to me.

Did you notice teams doing that more toward the end of last year?

GM: Not really. I don't think I saw too many double teams last year. Not at all, I don't think.

Are your linemates excited about getting some favorable matchups?

GM: I'm pretty sure they are. They haven't really expressed that to me, but I know if I was in their shoes, I would be excited just because we've got some good defensive linemen other than myself that can rush the passer. They're going to have good seasons this year.

Is there a guy who you model yourself after in the NFL?

GM: Before this year, it was Michael Strahan, but I've been watching a lot of Dwight Freeney. I think he's one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. But I try to emulate both of them and then try to do little things on my own, try to be creative and expose offensive linemen with some of my own techniques.

I'm getting a ton of e-mails about [linebacker] Matt Mayberry. Is he the real deal?

GM: Yeah, he is. He has a lot of speed and he reads very fast. He can get to the ball fast, he can close on the ball. Very physical. A linebacker has to be physical, but yeah, he's the real deal.

How has it been going against the no-huddle offense?

GM: It's kind of tough because we haven't done it in so long. People are just trying to get in that kind of shape. That's just a different kind of conditioning. Just lining up on the ball, running 15 yards downfield and then lining back up on the ball. But in the season, it's going to definitely help us, just to think on our toes faster and get our reads right.

You guys obviously generated a pretty good pass rush last year. What's it going to take to stop the run better?

GM: We just need to come off the ball harder and be more physical up front. We have experienced guys up front who are used to seeing how teams are going to scheme us. We'll be able to make more plays against the run that we did last year.