Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Nate Irving joins Moore and Franklin as a fellow class of ’11 draftee who is hoping to earn that lucrative second contract. But Irving tabs the longest odds since this year’s audition will be his first as a full-time starter.
Irving moved inside this offseason from his reserve role as an outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s amoebic 4-3 scheme. He replaces veteran Wesley Woodyard, who left for the Tennessee Titans via free agency.
Traditionally, the middle linebacker is expected to be the quarterback of the defense, sporting the green dot signifying his helmet is equipped with the radio receiver for the coach’s signals. But the weak-side linebacker makes those calls in Del Rio’s defense because he isn’t subbed in passing situations.
Irving wasn’t the Broncos' first choice to anchor the middle this offseason. General manager John Elway worked out free agent D’Qwell Jackson according to the Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot. The Denver Post claimed the team was considering John Beason back in March, and Clifton Brown of CSN Baltimore noted they were potential suitors for Daryl Smith.
Mike Klis of The Denver Post even noted it may have taken Elway three picks to move up and draft C.J. Mosley, an opportunity the team turned down.
Irving sat and watched as Woodyard, Joe Mays, Keith Brooking and Paris Lenon all got the starting nod over the past three seasons.
Brooking—who signed in ’12 at age 37—and Lenon—who signed in ’13 at age 36—should serve as warnings to Irving. Even though he’s won the camp battle, the Broncos are willing to sort through the unemployment line. Erin Henderson (28), Nick Barnett (33), Stewart Bradley (30) and London Fletcher (39) are among the realistic options currently out on the street.
Irving did not look as crisp against the San Francisco 49ers in preseason Week 2, notching just one assisted tackle, according to PFF. Danny Trevathan’s absence due to a fractured knee probably was a contributing factor. He repeated the lackluster performance against the Houston Texans in preseason Week 3. He managed one tackle and one QB hurry, according to PFF.
But the high third-rounder in ’11 out of North Carolina State remains confident, telling Troy Renck of The Denver Post: "I want them to know that I am the guy for the job. And I can only do that by practicing and playing well, improving my technique and continuing to show up in the games."
The coaching staff probably wants Irving to know that Steven Johnson outplayed him, albeit against lesser talent. Irving left enough doubt after three starts that Johnson, rookie Lamin Barrow or a free agent could get the call instead.