In 2014, the Denver Broncos will be striving for a defense that can complement their record-setting offense.
For years, many fans in Denver have grumbled over the fact that there is no defensive field general, no leader in the middle of the defense.
Whoever starts at middle linebacker in 2014 won't need to be like Al Wilson or John Mobley in order for the Broncos to reach their ultimate goal. He will, however, need to give the team more than what it's gotten from its middle linebacker spot in recent years.
As of this moment, Nate Irving appears in line to get yet another crack at the starting spot. There is plenty of good that Irving brings to the position, but there are concerns as well.
Irving will be entering his fourth season as a member of the team, so by now, he should be familiar with the system.
Since being drafted in the third round in 2011, his playing time has increased each season. Last year, Irving tallied 41 tackles to go along with one quarterback sack.
Irving is an athletic player who is above average in two areas—tackling and stopping the run. He is aggressive and attacks ball carriers.
The addition of T.J. Ward is going to be a huge factor for the Broncos this season. With him roaming the secondary, Irving needs to do nothing more than be a prototypical two-down linebacker, standing in against the run and helping the defense get off the field quickly.
On downs where the opposition is looking at 3rd-and-long, the Broncos can look into the possibility of replacing Irving with Ward and having three safeties on the field.
Is Nate Irving Denver's best option at middle linebacker?
Behind Irving, the Broncos also have a couple of good, young linebackers waiting in the wings in Lerentee McCray and Lamin Barrow. The Broncos don't have to rush getting these youngsters on the field.
In the first quarter of the Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks faced a third down from the Denver 14-yard line. Russell Wilson found Jermaine Kearse for what was a sure touchdown, but Irving was able to break it up, forcing the Seahawks to kick a field goal.
Unfortunately for Denver, this ended up being one of the few good plays the Broncos made in the game, but on the bright side, perhaps Irving's skills in pass coverage aren't as bad as we think.
For Irving to become a more effective defensive player, he needs to learn to fight off blockers and show better awareness. There are times when he literally looks lost on the field.
Irving is more of a rotational linebacker than one you want to have on the field for the majority of snaps.
For the most part, he will have to come off the field on passing downs, as opposing offenses have been able to exploit his deficiencies as a cover linebacker by getting him matched up in coverage on a tight end.
There could also be concern over Irving's progression. In three years with the team, Irving has yet to crack the lineup as a regular starter.
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) May 30, 2014
Though Irving will reportedly enter camp as the starter, the Broncos must be diligent in finding out whether he's the best option. If he's not, what is he worth to the future of the team?
Irving appears to be nothing more than a role player. But if Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio can get his defense configured the way he wants, than that is all Irving will be asked to be.