Martin strolled into the Carlisle Ballroom at Grandover Resort with more bulk than he’s carried during his lifetime. His weight currently fluctuates between 265-270 pounds, although he hit 273 pounds – his highest ever – earlier this summer.
“I feel like this extra weight is definitely going to benefit me,” Martin told reporters at the 2013 ACC Kickoff on Sunday. “I’m running better with the weight. I’ve gotten used to it, so I think as far as strength-wise, it’s definitely helped out a lot.”
Athleticism, however, has never really been an issue for the 6-foot-6 defensive end. His entire career has been a lengthy learning curve, due in large part to a revolving door of coaches. UNC’s current defensive line coach, Keith Gilmore, will be Martin’s fourth in as many years.
Butch Davis’ 4-3 pro-style defense utilized its linemen using various methods. One end and one three-technique tackle were given specific gap assignments, while the other two linemen could rush from whatever angle they deemed most effective. Former UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams once termed it a “freestyle” approach.
Due to Vic Koenning’s multitude of blitzes out of his 4-2-5 scheme, playing loose at the line of scrimmage can result in disastrous results, as Martin learned in last season’s 28-27 loss at Wake Forest.
“I had a play where I had to stay outside, but I felt like the offensive tackle kind of kicked out wide,” Martin said. “I tried to go under even though I had contain and the guy ran for a touchdown…
“There are plays we have where I have freedom to rush and do different things, but it’s not as much because everything is so calculated and scripted. You have to do your job in order for the defense to be successful.”
In the weeks following that early season loss, Koenning openly acknowledged that his only consistent push up front was coming from the interior. Martin heard those comments and went to work.
“I took it upon myself to get more pressure and get more hurries because I consider myself to be a top player,” Martin said. “To deliver what was expected, I had to elevate my game.”
He finished the season with 40 tackles, including 15.5 for loss, four sacks and a team-high eight quarterback hurries. Martin, however, counted nine sacks that he left on the field during offseason film work.
After watching film of various NFL defensive linemen, as well as Williams, Martin determined that getting off the line of scrimmage quicker had to be his emphasis during offseason workouts.
“What separated Sly from me and a lot of other guys around the country was his ball get-off,” Martin said. “There were a couple of plays on film where it looked like he was offsides because his ball get-off was so good.
“Just by having that little extra step on offensive linemen can be the difference in hitting the quarterback or sacking the quarterback. I think that for my game to get better, I had to work on that this offseason.”
Martin’s aiming for double-digit sacks in his final season as a Tar Heel, but stressed that his focus is on helping his team be successful.
And while South Carolina, UNC’s season-opening opponent, has a defensive end dominating the preseason headlines, Martin understands he has an opportunity to shift that media momentum his way by year end.
“Nothing is set in stone with who’s going to be taken first in the draft,” Martin said. “We all still have to go play this next season. There’s been plenty of guys who are No. 1 on the draft boards that drop to the second or third round, so I don’t see why I can’t be the first defensive end taken if I go out there this season and do the things I know I’m capable of doing.”