Now, however, the role is reversed. Only three starters are back from a Cowboy defense that ranked 31st-best in the nation a year ago, and Martin and defensive end Ugo Chinasa have combined for 37 of the 41 starts returning from the 2009 season. The only other Cowboy defenders to start a year ago were Victor Johnson (2 games), Andrew McGee (1), and Brodrick Brown. Orie Lemon, who started all 13 games in 2008, returns at middle linebacker after missing all of the 2009 season with a knee injury.
Martin knows what his role is in Bill Young's defense.
"I'm very excited about it. Last year I was kind of the guy who they were telling me what to do because I didn't understand things but now I'm the guy that's in there doing that. I know the calls, I know all the schemes and what's going to happen. I like the role a lot and it's just something that just came naturally. I think I can fill those shoes for this team," said Martin, who started the last 11 games of the 2009 season at strong safety after Victor Johnson went down with a season-ending injury.
Martin says that just because defensive tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka, defensive end Richetti Jones, linebackers James Thomas and Justin Gent, and free safety Johnny Thomas are all expected to make their first career starts Saturday against Washington State, that doesn't mean he expects anything less than what the Cowboy defense accomplished a year ago.
"What happened last year with a lot of injuries we were forced to play a lot of different guys, so I think this defense learned to adapt because we leaned on so many different guys so much that it won't be hard for us to go out there and play with so many young guys because of what happened last year. I think we'll be OK, we'll be fine," said Martin.
Young and the Cowboy defensive coaching staff has been impressed with how much faster this year's squad is than that of 2009, and believes that will help offset the lack of experience.
"I think we can because what we lack in the senior leadership from last year we have made up in team speed. Our bond is strong, our chemistry is good. I think the team speed we have now is great," said Martin, who expects Cowboy fans to be surprised as how fast the defensive linemen play. "Chris Donaldson is a great ball chaser. Nigel (Nicholas) has some speed. I think one person that most people wouldn't expect to have speed is Shane Jarka but once he sees that ball in the air, he just turns and runs toward it.
"You're going to make mistakes because you're forced to cover so many guys, but having team speed and having so many guys running to the ball to help you out and cover-up for those mistakes … I think team speed helps a lot when you're dealing with a lot of first-year players," Martin continued.
Six true freshmen are listed as second teamers on the Cowboy depth chart – defensive tackle Davidell Collins, linebackers Shaun Lewis and Tyler Johnson, cornerbacks Devin Hedgepeth and Justin Gilbert, and strong safety Deion Imade.
Martin remembers what it was like when Oklahoma State made the trip to Seattle's Qwest Field, the home of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, for that 2008 opener against the same Washington State Cougars that the Cowboys will meet Saturday night.
"That was my first time traveling. It was just an overwhelming experience from my first plane ride to playing in an NFL stadium, it was an amazing atmosphere. I was so excited to play," said Martin, who played on several special teams and got some playing time in the secondary in the second half of the Cowboys' blowout victory (39-13).
"I played a lot for a freshman."
He expects the Cowboy newcomers like Davidell Collins, Shaun Lewis, Devin Hedgepeth, Justin Gilbert and Deion Imade to hold their own Saturday night.
"A lot of them are from Texas so they're used to (playing in front of) big crowds. But at the same time I tell them, you've been playing this game your whole life, you know what you're capable of, you know what you can bring. Just try not to focus on the crowd, try not to get lost in the crowd, and try to keep your composure and play the game the way you know how."