For a moment, it looked like the decision to move Eric Martin from linebacker to defensive end was going to change the entire complexion of Nebraska's defensive front four.
After a breakout performance in last year's spring game, Martin showed the type of tenacious pass rushing ability off the edge that the Huskers have lacked for some time now.
However, as the season moved along and the complexity of Nebraska's defense picked up, Martin - who had never played defensive end before in his life - quickly started to show his inexperience at his new position. As a result, he only saw the field primarily on special teams and on obvious passing downs, finishing the year with 2.5 sacks.
Despite being a bit undersized compared to other defensive ends (6-2, 260), Martin said it was the fact he was so far behind in grasping the playbook and mastering the position that kept him off the field more often than not last year.
"I think it was just me more mentally that kept me off the field," Martin said. "I think my physical ability was alright. It was just mentally why I wasn't on the field. Just learning the defense. We have a complicated defense that takes time to learn, and it took me longer to develop it that others."
As of now, it looks as if Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah are the front runners to win the starting defensive end jobs this season. But that doesn't mean Nebraska's coaches still don't have big plans for the versatile Martin.
During his first week working with Martin to start spring practice, new defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said he was going to make it a point to use the Moreno Valley, Calif., more often than he was used last season because of the mismatches he can cause against bigger, slower offensive linemen.
Head coach Bo Pelini echoed that sentiment on Monday, especially considering Martin is much more comfortable at defensive end with a year of experience under his belt.
"Eric's a talented guy," Pelini said. "Eric can do a lot of different things. For a guy who played linebacker and now he's playing end, he's a powerful guy, a powerful, strong guy who can obviously rush the passer well, but he can also be a force out there to be reckoned with.
"He's a weapon for us and somebody who can - now that he's got another year of experience in the system, another year of playing defensive end - I'm looking for big things out of Eric."
As much as Martin may have grown at defensive end over the past year, he admits that he still has a long way to go before he can say he has a firm grasp on NU's defensive scheme and all the nuances of the position.
With this being his senior season, though, Martin is well aware that time is quickly running out for him to make an impact for the Huskers. That's why learning as much as possible this spring is his top priority.
"I think I'm getting better," Martin said. "I'm learning something new every day. We're still putting new stuff in, and in the offseason you tend to forget some things. You just have to bring it back to yourself. It's just like doing Algebra over and over again."
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