Martin Making Strides

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Kareem Martin exited Roanoke Rapids (N.C.) High School with a solid resume that included a Shrine Bowl appearance and recognition as one of the top players in his home state. But the defensive end never expected that he would make his first collegiate start in the season opener against LSU.

With less than a month of practice under his belt, Martin and his thin 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame trotted out onto the Georgia Dome field against the Tigers following a whirlwind 48 hours that had sidelined 13 of his teammates due to the NCAA investigation.

UNC fielded an inexperienced defense missing six starters and LSU was in position to build a 27-point lead four minutes into the fourth quarter, but a holding call and an intentional grounding penalty knocked the Tigers out of the red zone. Martin (two tackles) and his Tar Heel teammates buckled down and held LSU to 66 yards while forcing two turnovers in the fourth quarter to give UNC a chance at a near impossible comeback.

Martin started his next two games against Georgia Tech and Rutgers and ultimately played in 11 games during his freshman season, totaling 16 tackles (7 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.

"Last year was an unusual season for everybody involved," Martin said. "It was something I wasn't expecting, but it was something that gave me experience. I was thrown in there a little earlier than I was expecting or wanted, but I learned a lot from that year and it's helped me become a better football player."

While being thrown into the fire is rarely a football player's preferred method of acclimating to his sport, Martin entered the offseason with a sincere knowledge for the speed of the game. He spent the opening weeks of training camp last August learning the defense, but took Navy Fields three weeks ago knowing all of the calls and being able to focus on just competing.

"I know what to expect from the linemen and I've gotten better at reading offensive plays, being able to play boots and screens a lot better," Martin said. "I've gotten better playing the run. I've learned to keep my pads low and I've gotten stronger in the weight room, so just staying square to the line and not getting pushed around by stronger linemen."

Martin currently checks in at 260 pounds and while the plan is for him to add 5-10 more pounds, he added that he's "pretty solid now."

For the second August in a row, Martin expected a bulk of his reps to come with the second unit, but starting defensive end Donte Paige-Moss's medical issue two weeks ago allowed the sophomore to work with the first unit for approximately 10 practices.

"Taking snaps with the first group is always beneficial because we have one of the top lines in the ACC," Martin said. "Going up against guys like James Hurst, Carl Gaskins and Brennan Williams is only going to help me going against ACC opponents and other opponents on our schedule."

North Carolina's offensive line has received plenty of hype this preseason, but Martin believes that positive publicity is warranted.

"Our offensive line has been together for awhile now and they communicate so well together," Martin said. "They adjust to what we're running. It may not be the call they have on offense, but they'll adjust their blocking scheme for what we're doing. They're pretty smart, so that's definitely going to help come this season. They'll be able to adjust to different blitzes that they see coming."

The defensive line has grown accustomed to that level of hype in the preseason over the past several years. With first-team All-ACC defensive lineman Quinton Coples anchoring one end spot opposite of Paige-Moss and Tydreke Powell and Sylvester Williams securing the interior of the line, UNC's front four has the potential to challenge for top honors in the conference.

But it takes solid depth to keep the pressure on opposing offenses for 60 minutes, and that's where experienced backups like Martin come into play.

"This line is deep – we're a lot deeper than we were last year," Martin said. "We rotated five to six guys, but this year we're two deep at every position across the line. I think we'll have a heavy rotation rolling about eight or nine."

And while the 2011 preseason has already presented its own share of distractions in the form of Butch Davis's dismissal eight days before the start of training camp, Martin insists that the player unity that carried UNC to eight wins in 2010 remains intact.

"Our team chemistry is real strong," Martin said. "When Coach Davis left, we all bonded together. It was us against everybody else. We had to come together and we could have all been sad about it, but we know Coach Davis wouldn't want us to be like that. So we just had to move one and get this season underway."

As the Tar Heels learned last fall, the best way to work out job-related anger is take out your frustration on the opposition.

"I'm really excited," Martin said. "Sept. 3 is right around the corner. Being able to hit other guys on the Kenan Stadium field is going to be nice."

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