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Time is here for Martin

Posted May 14, 2010

A year ago, then-rookie Sherrod Martin was overwhelmed trying to keep up and understand what the coaches were telling him. At his first NFL minicamp, the Panthers 2009 second-round draft choice was learning how to play cornerback after playing safety in college at Troy. Then injuries in training camp forced him to work at both positions.

But what a difference a year makes. Now, Martin enters his second NFL season as one of the team's starting safeties alongside Charles Godfrey. At Carolina's recent minicamp, Martin played with the confidence of a veteran.

"I feel that I know a little bit more about what's going on, how to approach it, how to prepare for it. It's a long season," Martin said.

Secondary coach Mike Gillhamer noticed Martin's increased confidence in his play at minicamp. "He did a really nice job in the minicamp as far as taking a leadership role a little bit and knowing what he has to do," Gillhamer said. "He's feeling more comfortable with the position and he's got a little bit of experience now."

One of Martin's most helpful experiences as a rookie came in the middle of the season when he started five games at free safety in place of an injured Godfrey. He made his first career start at Arizona against the Cardinals potent passing attack but did not play like a rookie. Martin victimized two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner for two interceptions and made five tackles.

"I was really proud of him the way he played," Gillhamer said. "He came in and got those two big picks and showed a lot of burst, a lot of speed and picked our defense up."

Thanks to that performance and Martin's efforts in his next four starts, the coaching staff left him at safety permanently. As a result, Martin, who finished his rookie season with 20 tackles, three interceptions and two passes defensed, can focus solely on just one position.

"Safety is the position that I played throughout college, so it's natural for me at safety," he said. "(At) corner, I had to work a little bit harder at it, not even just in technique but the possibilities of what they could do as far alignments and things. But at safety I still have to work hard also, but the movement is more natural for me because I have experience at it."

Whether Martin lines up at free or strong safety remains to be seen. He started at free safety in college, but Godfrey has manned that spot for the Panthers for the last two years.

"As far as strong and free, here they are basically the same. Overall, you've got to know the defense and know where people are," Martin said. "Week in and week out we switch things up to keep opponents on their toes and to help us do different stuff, also."

Martin's emergence and the continued development of third-year pro Godfrey contributed to Carolina trading Chris Harris to Chicago. But Martin is the first to point out that he would not be where he is without the tutelage of Harris.

"From last year watching Chris, I learned a lot from him," Martin said. "His overall knowledge of the game was so much more than the average safety. He taught me to think outside the box and to be faster and be able to make plays."

Armed with experience and a better understanding of the game, Martin has gone from a timid rookie a year ago to a confident veteran now and is ready to tackle the task at hand.

"You come here to play ball and you just want an opportunity to step in and play and show what you can do," he said. "The time is here."