Coaches say Huskers' Martin can be smashing at DE

Coaches say Huskers' Martin can be smashing at DE

Published Aug. 22, 2011 8:46 p.m. ET

Eric Martin doesn't want to be remembered as a one-hit wonder.

Martin goes into his third season at Nebraska best known for his concussion-inducing collision with Oklahoma State's Andrew Hudson last October. The hit, which helped spring Niles Paul for a 100-yard kickoff return, earned Martin a one-game suspension and has served as a conversation starter for fans who meet him for the first time.

''That's all I hear about,'' he said.

Martin hopes to give fans something else to talk about this season. The former linebacker is beginning his first full year at defensive end and is competing for playing time opposite Cameron Meredith.


Coaches say the 6-foot-2, 260-pound pound Martin's 4.67-second speed in the 40-yard dash makes him a dangerous pass-rusher.

''He's not a prototype d-end size-wise,'' defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said, ''but he's strong - freakish strong.''

Martin said his goal is to be an every-down player, not just one who enters the game in obvious passing situations. But Pelini said the Cornhuskers are so deep at defensive end that Martin might be part of a two- or three-man rotation. That would allow Martin to continue with his role on kickoff coverage and possibly other special teams.

Pelini asked Martin to change positions in late October. The nuances of lining up nose-to-nose with tight ends or on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle were foreign to Martin, so Pelini and line coach John Papuchis kept the instructions simple.

''Coaches told me to just rush the passer,'' Martin said. ''It was toward the end of the season, so I wasn't going to learn everything. It was completely impossible unless I was like Albert Einstein or something, because our defense is real complicated.''

Martin, who showed up from Moreno Valley, Calif., weighing 225 pounds, had to bulk up in a hurry. As an undersized defensive end, he also has had to learn to be creative in shedding blockers.

''I've got beat-up hands and dislocated fingers all over the place,'' Martin said. ''You mess up your fingers. They look ugly.''

Martin settled into the position in spring practice and began to thrive. He made four tackles in the spring game, including two for losses, and he forced a fumble.

Martin's high energy level earned him playing time his freshman year. Ten of his 15 tackles came on special teams. He also blocked two punts, one that went for a touchdown against Baylor and the other against Texas in the Big 12 championship game.

He made a team-leading 13 special-teams tackles last season, all on kickoff coverage. But his most memorable play came as he was blocking for Paul on the kick return unit.

Martin approached from Hudson's left side and delivered a hit that knocked both players to the ground. Though no penalty was called, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe suspended Martin, saying he targeted Hudson with the crown of his helmet.

Martin said he suspects he was suspended because his big hit came about the same time the NFL was doling out big fines to players for dangerous and flagrant hits.

''It was the wrong timing, between the NFL and it being concussion week,'' Martin said.

Martin said he didn't mean to hurt Hudson and that he checked up on him over Facebook.

''I didn't realize the damage I did,'' he said. ''He wasn't really mad about it. It's football. He said, `I signed up to go out there and something like that was bound to happen.' I apologized to him a million times. I felt bad for doing it.''

Martin said he doesn't want to have a reputation for being a dirty player. He said he plays hard and fast and isn't going to slow down his internal motor.

''Some hits,'' he said, ''you can't take back.''