From Julius Peppers to Robert Quinn to Quinton Coples, North Carolina has rarely lacked talent at defensive end for over a decade now. Martin has the size and potential to follow in the footsteps of former Tar Heel greats, but must prove himself on the field and help a defensive line that, at least on paper, pales in comparison to those of recent seasons.
Aside from junior Tim Jackson, who is now playing both end and tackle, Martin is the only returning defensive end with a sack to his credit (4). With former All-American Coples now with the New York Jets and not on the other side of the line, Martin expects increased attention from opposing offensive lines this fall.
"I think my biggest thing in the offseason was trying to work on my pass rush, because in the past I've been able to rely on other guys like Quinton Coples, who was a good pass rusher," Martin said. "I had somebody who I know may flush the quarterback or get the sack, but now I'm looking upon myself to try to lead the defensive line in sacks and defense as a whole. I've been trying to really work on that and learn different moves by watching films and everything."
Fortunately for Martin, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams is still around. Williams emerged last season as a formidable interior presence that commands plenty of attention from offensive lines. If Martin proves to be a force on the outside as well, it frees up things for both to make more plays. It's difficult to double-team both players, so Martin anticipates plenty of one-on-one matchups for him and his teammate.
Williams, Martin and the rest of the linemen hope to finally have some stability in the coaching staff this year. In Martin's first three years in Chapel Hill, there have been a total of five defensive line coaches. Without consistency from the coaches, players must rely on themselves to recognize their mistakes and improve. However, the hiring of the new staff, including defensive line coach Deke Adams, should provide for a stable foundation.
"Most of the defensive line coaches here, they've been more laid back," Martin said. "He's more of up in your face, which is good. It keeps you on your toes. You're going to know what you did wrong in practice, so you'll be able to fix it there whereas [with] other coach you may have to wait until you go watch film. He's going to tell you what you did on the field."
Adams is guiding the defensive line through the transition from a traditional 4-3 defense to the new 4-2-5 scheme. While there are still four down linemen in the new system, the philosophy, like the two coaching staffs, could not be more different.
"I really saw [the 4-2-5] in spring ball, but in camp I really saw how good it can be, because we've been moving all over the place and giving the offense fits at times," Martin said. "It's really been helpful. I think it's going to work really for us this season.
"[There are] just a lot of guys coming. It's a pressure defense. We're attack, attack, attack. Rarely will we just wait for the offense to make a move. We're going after the quarterback. We're trying to get that football, so it's a lot of excitement."