The Denver Broncos selected linebacker Nate Irving three years ago and it raised a few eyebrows. Irving was an under sized inside linebacker from North Carolina State and certainly did not fit the mold of an NFL middle linebacker. The Broncos have been looking for someone to fill that role since Al Wilson retired so many years ago. Through his first two seasons, Irving did not seem to be that player.
He spent his first two professional seasons as a situational substitute but many considered him a disappointment. During the past offseason, the Broncos brought in free agents and tried to move up in the draft in order to find their next middle linebacker, but were seemingly unable to do so.
That search might be over and the answer appears to be Irving who has been here the entire time. It’s easy to get carried away after one meaningless preseason game, but he was fantastic on Thursday night. Irving made numerous plays versus the run and also showed off his coverage ability when the Seattle Seahawks tried to throw over the middle.
So where did this come from and where has it been? Let’s start with this, any middle linebacker is going to benefit from great defensive line play and the Broncos were great up front on Thursday night. When the offensive line is having trouble blocking the front four as the Seahawks were, the linebackers are free to roam and make plays. That’s not to take anything away from Irving; every great middle linebacker has benefited from the play in front of them.
The days of the big thumper in the middle are long gone; middle linebackers are now asked to do so much more. In the past, middle linebackers were asked to stuff the run and then come off the field on passing downs.
Today’s game is different, offenses are throwing more than they ever have and having that run stopping middle linebacker on the field on any down is a liability. Quarterbacks like Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers pick those guys out and throw at them all day.
Irving is the picture of what today’s middle linebacker should look like. He runs down a running back from behind on first down, and then covers an athletic tight end on third down. In addition, Irving has also showed the ability to blitz and get to the quarterback.
Combine Irving with Von Miller and the continued emergence of Danny Trevathan, who was also great on Thursday night, and the Broncos have a very good trio of linebackers.
Irving deserves credit for working hard, playing special teams and doing whatever the Broncos asked him to do during his first two seasons. He filled in admirably for Von Miller last season and has been a great situational player. He stayed humble and waited for his turn and if Thursday night is any indication, the search for the Broncos next middle linebacker is over.