CHAPEL HILL– Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin says he believes the pass rush for the defense is greatly improving this preseason.

In particular, he says junior Norkeithus Otis is causing some disruption for the quarterback and will likely be a big factor for the Tar Heels come game time.

“We’re getting a lot more pressure. We have a lot of guys stepping up in the pass rushing game. I worked a lot on my pass rush this spring and summer,” Martin said.

With only two weeks remaining before the first game, Martin says it is important for players to stay healthy while still pushing themselves day in and day out at practice.

“The main thing right now in camp is to take care of your body. That’s the biggest thing. You have to be healthy. You’re no good if you aren’t 100 percent going into the first game. Camp is a grind,” said Martin. “Time’s running out and before you know it, we’ll be playing South Carolina.”

And speaking of that Carolina to our South, yes, those Gamecocks will no doubt be motivated to send their Tar Heel rivals back home after a thumping loss in Columbia. But Martin says he thinks his team is up to the challenge.

“I think the belief is definitely there. […] We’re all mature, and I think most guys are ready for this stage,” Martin said.

On a personal level, Martin says he knew he would need to step up and assert more of a leadership role on the defense in his senior season. He has relished the role and says he understands his teammates listen to him when he speaks.

“I knew I had to step up and be that leader. A lot of guys on the team look up to me. My voice is being heard by them. I make sure that everything I do, I’m doing it the right way,” Martin said.

Along with teammate Tre Boston, Martin was placed on the preseason award watch list for the prestigious Bronko Nagurski Trophy that is awarded to the nation’s top defensive player.

Martin was recognized as second-team All-ACC in 2012, boasting 40 tackles, four sacks and eight quarterback hurries. He will be leading the Tar Heel defense in 2013 as the top returning player in both tackles for loss and sacks.

Day sixteen of training camp felt more like a fresh spring morning in Chapel Hill rather than a mid-August day usually composed of scorching temperatures and miserable humidity. Kickoff between North Carolina and South Carolina is two weeks away, August 29 in Columbia.