Big Ten: Adam McClurg
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire|
|Indiana junior linebacker Matt Mayberry's (#43) best asset is his speed.|
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Matt Mayberry smiled when I mentioned I've received more e-mails about him than Beanie Wells, James Laurinaitis and Travis Beckum combined.
The preseason is the time to forecast the next great star in the Big Ten, and many fans are tabbing Mayberry, a junior middle linebacker at Indiana. Mayberry has a sneaking suspicion why.
"My greatest asset is speed," Mayberry said. "Talking with the coaches and everything, they just can't wait to put my speed out there. The defense is kind of designed for me, sideline-to-sideline, some specific blitzes for me, using my speed to make plays."
Mayberry runs a 4.49 in the 40 and can cover the entire field from his spot at middle linebacker. The Darien, Ill., native complements his speed with good size (6-2, 236), giving Indiana's defensive midsection an element it hasn't had before.
There's no nice way to put this, but not too long ago, Indiana's linebackers were painfully slow. It's a big reason why the Hoosiers finished no higher than 94th nationally in rushing defense between 2002-2006.
Indiana wants to tighten up against the run, and Mayberry is the linchpin.
"Physically, he's one of the better middle linebackers I've ever been around," said Hoosiers co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic, who helped coach several strong linebackers at Miami (Ohio). "He weighs about 240 pounds, he's strong as an ox and he's our fastest linebacker. He is gonna be a force."
An injury to Adam McClurg opened the door for Mayberry last year, and he chipped in with 42 tackles, including eight in the Insight Bowl. He spent the summer working on his speed and acceleration with Kevin Kasper, the former Iowa wide receiver who played at Mayberry's high school and now trains athletes in Naperville, Ill.
Former Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski, now with the Baltimore Ravens, trained alongside Mayberry with Kasper.
"Kasper really mentored both of us through the whole process," Mayberry said.
Mayberry has high hopes for a linebacker group that returns starters Will Patterson and Geno Johnson but rarely gets recognition around the league.
"You've got Ohio State, obviously, with James [Laurinaitis] and Marcus Freeman leading the way," Mayberry said. "They've already proven themselves. As a group, we've got to go out there and get respect. We can't wait to start the season."