As a member of the Denver Broncos, Irving saw Luck and the Colts twice in the Mile High City last season. His sack came in a 31-24 season-opening win, but he was on injured reserve when the Colts ended the Broncos’ season with a 24-13 AFC Divisional playoff victory in January.
Irving signed a three-year, $7.25-million contract to join the Colts in March. The fifth-year pro is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from surgery on his right knee.
“When I came here on a visit, they welcomed me with open arms,” he said of changing NFL horses. “They told me I would have a shot (to play regularly). I like the team’s chances. It felt like the right place to be.”
“He’s just a tough competitor,” Irving said of the three-time Pro Bowl passer. “He has that will to win. I think that’s important.”
The Colts pursued Irving to help bolster a run defense that yielded 177 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in January’s 45-7 AFC Championship Game loss at New England. His blitz sack of Luck was just the second of his 54-game career, so those don’t happen often. The 6-1, 245-pound linebacker’s primary job is to stuff the run.
He’s expected to rotate in the Colts’ 3-4 scheme with inside linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman. Irving was sidelined after eight games by the knee injury, but recently expressed optimism about his rehab during offseason training activities.
“I’m slightly ahead of schedule and I plan on keeping it that way, barring any setbacks,” Irving said.
As is often the case with knee recoveries, the body heals but it takes time for the mind to trust it.
“That’s the toughest part,” he said. “The doctors and the trainers tell me it’s fully healed, but up here (points to his head), it’s just ‘What if I do this and it pops?’ Or ‘What if I make this move and it snaps?’ I’ve just got to get the mind right.”
A third-round pick in 2011, Irving emerged as a full-time starter last season. He’s made 104 tackles, 67 of them solos, in his 54-game NFL career.
“Man, I haven’t even begun to dig in and do what I can do,” Irving said. “It’s a lot more I’ve got to do, a lot more I’ve got to show.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.