ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When linebacker
He certainly was that when linebacker
With Miller out, he started the final game of the regular season and all three playoff games.
“I want to be one of the most reliable players,” Irving said regarding his goals for next season. “I don’t want to miss a game. I don’t want to miss a snap at practice or anything like that. I want to contribute to this team both on the field and off the field in meetings and in the locker room.”
He finished the season with a career high in total tackles (34) and one sack. Irving seized the opportunity to start and improved, while also proving himself. He put himself in an excellent position to contend for the starting middle linebacker job as veteran linebackers Keith Brooking and D.J. Williams were lost to free agency.
Most of his contributions during his first two years as a Bronco were on special teams as he tied the team lead with 10 special-teams tackles in 2012. Starting helped Irving grow in multiple ways.
“It helps with confidence,” Irving said. “It helps you get adjusted to actual games versus practice speed. You can go full speed at practice but game speed and full speed at practice are two different tempos and actually going through at game speed and quality reps and learning and having mistakes and correcting mistakes is pretty good.”
During minicamp, Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said Irving is more comfortable and confident in his role.
“I think Nate played well last year when he was called on. And the things that he got an opportunity to do, he played well,” Del Rio said. “So I know he comes in with a lot of confidence based on the way he played last year, and the fact that he’s very familiar with our defense, understands where he belongs. He’s a heavy-handed guy, a bright guy, good communicator, and he’s having a good camp.”
Irving said “I wasn’t there at all” when asked if he was prepared for what starting entailed. But he said going a full season with drastically more playing time then previous years “helped me out as a player and a person.”
A key part to Irving’s success was that he was never trying to be Miller. Miller helped him out in meetings and go over film with him on Mondays after games, but he stuck to his own game.
In addition, he never let the pressure of starting in place of Miller, the first player in Broncos history to earn a Pro Bowl selection in each of his first two NFL seasons, overwhelm him. He just wanted to be reliable and consistent.
“There’s pressure, but the pressure is coming from myself more than anyone else for me to go out there and take care of my business,” Irving said. “I don’t really allow too much outside pressure to affect me because that’s just only going to affect me in a negative way. I push myself to do this and take care of that and make sure that good things are coming from the pressure, not bad things.”