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Carolina Panthers

Irvin ready to make mark


SPARTANBURG, S.C. - At the end of his first NFL training camp in 2009, defensive tackle Corvey Irvin needed only to look at his injured knee to see why he wouldn't be on the Panthers' active roster as a rookie.

At the end of training camp last season, however, Irvin had to take a much closer look at himself when the Panthers waived him.

"I had to look in the mirror," Irvin said. "It was me out there. I couldn't blame anyone else."

The Panthers added Irvin to the practice squad after he cleared waivers, and a year later they just might add him to the first line on the depth chart. Irvin took full advantage of his time on the practice squad as well as this past offseason, and now he's among the top candidates for a significant role in the interior of the team's young defensive line.

"Everybody needs a setback sometimes to really evaluate what the situation is," Irvin said. "I really had a lot of thinking to do when I was cut. It hurt, but I didn't give up. I just continued to work every day."

The emergence of Irvin, a third-year pro out of the University of Georgia, is now more critical than ever. The Panthers were counting on free agent acquisition Ron Edwards – a veteran of 10 NFL seasons - to anchor the interior, but he suffered a torn triceps muscle last week and is out indefinitely.

That leaves fourth-year pro Nick Hayden, who started 10 games last season, as the most experienced defensive tackle on the roster. There is promise in rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain - both picked in the third round of the April draft – as well as second-year pro Andre Neblett, the only undrafted rookie to make the roster in 2010.

But outside of Hayden, Irvin currently qualifies as the team's second-most experienced defensive tackle, even after spending his rookie season on injured reserve with a torn medial collateral ligament and playing in just two games last season after spending the first 13 on the practice squad.

"There's a huge opportunity," head coach Ron Rivera said. "As we look through it, there are a few other guys we're watching.

"Fua brings the bulk and size that we're hoping to have up front that allows our linebackers to run and make plays going downhill as opposed to going sideways. McClain is a quick, athletic guy - a guy that can get vertical and to the crease and add something to your pass rush. He can be a dynamic, exciting guy.

"And from what I've seen from Corvey, I've been impressed. I really like what I see from the young man."

Irvin didn't put up remarkable numbers during his two seasons at the University of Georgia, but his physical skills convinced the Panthers to use a third-round pick on him. Through his recent trials, Irvin learned that physical skills alone aren't enough to make it in the NFL.

During his time on the practice squad and the time he spent working with former NFL defensive end Chuck Smith during the offseason, Irvin got the message.


"At this level, everybody's strong, everybody's fast, everybody's big. Your technique must be very precise," Irvin said. "Ending up on the practice squad made me work on my technique a little more and put me in the weight room and the film room a little more. It helped me out.

"Then all offseason I worked on that, in Atlanta with Chuck Smith. He's a good buddy of mine, kind of like my mentor. He believes in getting off the ball."

When Irvin arrived at training camp, he felt more prepared than ever from the standpoint of work ethic and fundamentals, but he still didn't truly know what to expect with a new coaching staff in tow. But once Irvin got together with defensive line coach Eric Washington and got into the playbook, he couldn't have been more pleased.

"Without us having OTAs, I didn't really know what the system was. But when we got to camp, we were doing things I did in college, things that got me in the league – playing upfield, being aggressive, getting off the ball," Irvin said. "I love the system and I love Coach Washington. I love it. I'm happy."

And now that Irvin seems to have figured things out, he's hopeful that when he looks in the mirror at the end of this training camp, he'll see a big smile looking back at him.

"I had to become a pro, just do things the right way and become consistent so that I can make plays," he said. "I don't want my opportunity to slip away, so I'm taking every play like it's my last.

"I just want to play my part in this defense. I know I can do it. I've got that feeling."

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