Martin has to earn starting spot

For now, the Panthers' free safety job remains in the hands of Sherrod Martin. How long he hangs onto depends entirely on him.

For now, the Panthers' free safety job remains in the hands of Sherrod Martin.

How long he hangs onto depends entirely on him.

The fourth-year safety was put on notice by the signings of free agents Haruki Nakamura and Reggie Smith, and knows he's going to have to improve his play to keep the position.

The laid-back Martin tried to not over-emphasize the competition, but the pressure is clearly on.

"When teams sign guys, they sign guys that they feel like can help the team. That's the most important thing," Martin said. "As far as my position, it's about what I do. I've just got to come out and (be) me."

Some blown coverages late in the season last year put him in the coaching staff's doghouse, and even earned a curt rebuke from owner Jerry Richardson. In a Q and A with the Charlotte Observer last spring, Richardson was asked his opinion of Martin, and replied: "I think he plays safety."

The front-office moves to create competition spoke even louder, and there's no doubt his grip is tenuous.

"I think he's an aggressive young player that's learned, and learned some valuable lessons," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

"The best thing that happened to Sherrod last year was he played. And I think we can build on those types of situations." When he's on point, Martin can be a dangerous player. A college corner with special range, he's also a big hitter.

Sometimes, those hits were too big, as he's been fined repeatedly and was even featured in a league instructional video for illegal hits.

But it was the hits he didn't make that earned him the wrong kind of notice from coaches. His boom-or-bust style has meant more missed tackles than they'd care for, and the hope is an offseason to work with this staff will polish his technique to the point it's not a liability.

"A big part of the game that I messed up on last year was tackling," Martin said. "That's something I've got to improve on. Other than that, just coming out and working. Just constantly getting better and putting myself in better position and just finish plays."

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