When Colts head coach Chuck Pagano met with the media at the owner's meetings last week, he referred to his team's run defense as their "Achilles heal," and that's hard to argue after seeing how much the Colts have been dominated on the ground by the New England Patriots in each of the three matchups between the teams, including in January's AFC Championship blowout.
The Colts have set out this offseason with one clear goal in mind, and that is to get to and win the Super Bowl. And, of course, to do that means to get past the Patriots. The Colts are building up their run defense in an effort to stop New England, and that was the driving factor behind the signings of both Kendall Langford along the defensive line and Nate Irving at inside linebacker.
Also in 2014, the Colts' inside linebackers weren't great. Neither D'Qwell Jackson nor Jerrell Freeman were terrible, but neither were great either and they were simply average, not giving the Colts the playmaker there that they needed. So the team needed help at inside linebacker as well, though it was always very unlikely that either Jackson or Freeman would get replaced as the starter. The signing of Irving also shores up this area as well, giving the Colts much-needed depth at the inside linebacker position.
Irving is a solid linebacker. Playing the last four years with the Denver Broncos, Irving played in 54 games (starting 12) and recorded 104 tackles, two sacks, and two passes defensed, making his presence most felt in the run game. In 2014, he entered the season as Denver's starter and held that role for the first eight games of the season before suffering a season-ending knee injury (a torn ACL that he is still recovering from).
Irving should definitely help the Colts' run defense. He won't be a starter, but he will likely be a good situational role player who can step in and provide good defense against the run. Granted, the area of biggest weakness for the Colts' inside linebackers was in pass coverage, but with their emphasis this offseason clearly on stopping the run, the signing of Irving makes a lot of sense. It's a low-risk deal that could pay big rewards for the team, as they get a third inside linebacker who can step in and play when needed and is at his best against the run - an area that the Colts know they need to improve at if they want to get past the Patriots. With that goal in mind, the addition of Nate Irving in the middle of the defense is a good one that makes sense.
Quick Summary: Nate Irving:
Weight: 245 pounds
Age: 26 years old
Years Pro: Spent four seasons with the Denver Broncos (2011-2014)
College: North Carolina State
Drafted: Selected in the third round of the 2011 draft by the Denver Broncos
Stats: Played in 54 games (12 starts) with the Broncos, recording 104 tackles, two sacks, and two passes defensed
Contract: 3-year, $7.25 million contract with $1.5 million guaranteed; $1.25 cap hit in 2015 (per Spotrac)