Expectations aside, it was four years ago that Nate Irving was just lucky to be alive.
He suffered a broken leg, collapsed lung, rib injuries, and a year of rehab. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Nate Irving was dubbed "the best MLB prospect in the draft" by Bill Parcells. After two years in a reserve/Special Teams role, there are many questions yet to be answered by the 3rd year pro.
We know he's tough, you don't survive what he did without having toughness. We know he's resilient, lesser human beings would have left football behind after such a devastating accident. We know he has talent, he was an All-American that set the NCAA FBS record for tackles for a loss in one game at eight. What then remains? More questions than there are answers.
The Denver Broncos did not address the MLB position via the draft. They bypassed players such as Manti Teo and Arthur Brown instead opting for Sylvester Williams and Montee Ball. Was it a case of more talent at other positions or confidence in their young LB corps?
I don't have the answer. In a defense where the MLB is not a primary role, the Broncos seemed content to create competition amongst a bunch of unknown players and 2nd tier producers. The job is there for the taking, and someone with the talent and skill Nate Irving has flashed both as a college athlete and as a pro in limited action should seize the opportunity come TC and lay claim to the job. Elway and the FO is patient with player development. The fact that they have only let go of one of their draft picks thus far in their team building process says that they are willing to develop and coach players they believe have the skills to get the job done.
In year 3 however, the time is now for Nate Irving. The only thing standing in his way is his own progress and understanding of the defense. MLB is a demanding position because it requires the player to know the defense inside and out. It requires the player to recognize, diagnose, and counter. Perhaps the mental aspect of the game is what has kept Irving back so far. Whatever the case may be, the time is now for Nate to step up or step down. Will he become the MLB Bill Parcells envisioned in 2010, or will he become another dime a dozen ST contributor and backup who never quite put the whole picture together in order to become that impact starter?
If anyone besides Nate Irving is the starting Mike in 2013, the Broncos failed on two counts: 1) Irving will have proven a flop 2) their approach to the MLB position this offseason was lazy and half assed. The Broncos do not need an all world MLB to succeed as a defense. But they sure need to have someone in there with better instincts than Joe Mays, with better athleticism than Stewart Bradley. Forget Steven Johnson for a moment--though our history and success with UDFA is well documented, the deck is stacked against him.
Nate Irving has one more chapter to write. The success of his authorship alone will tell whether or not his story has many more pages to be written. For Nate Irving, the road to redemption starts July 25th.