Irving faces uphill battle to make Chiefs’ roster

Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman David Irving rushed past tackle Tavon Rooks during practice Monday morning at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.
Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman David Irving rushed past tackle Tavon Rooks during practice Monday morning at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.

When football is over for Chiefs defensive end David Irving — later rather than sooner, he hopes — a career on stage may beckon.

He took acting classes at Iowa State and appeared in a play. Football obligations forced him to turn down an opportunity to audition for a performance at a theater in Chicago. He’s got the bug, and that’s where his path may someday lead. Or elsewhere.

“I may need a backup plan for my backup plan,” Irving said.

But first there’s the matter of professional football, and Irving’s first impression in competition was a good one. He used his 6-foot-7 frame to block a field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter of the Chiefs’ 34-19 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Saturday’s preseason opener.

When you’re an undrafted rookie who hasn’t played football in more than a year, impressionable moments are invaluable.

“It was a nice block,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He’s working, give him credit for that.”

Still, the road is a long one for Irving. He was listed as fourth-team left defensive end for Saturday’s game, looking to fight his way up the depth chart. It’s been an uphill battle, starting with the eye-opening experience of offseason training.

“In college you have a couple of star players,” Irving said. “In the NFL, the starters are stars. The backups are stars. The threes are stars. Everyone is big, strong and fast.

“And I learned quickly then I couldn’t do things my way. Coaches changed my stance, my steps and told me that was the way it had to be done.”

Irving had to get reacquainted with football. In April 2014, he was arrested and charged with fifth-degree theft, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief by police in Ames, Iowa, for his role during a disturbance. He had been suspended for one game during the 2013 season after he was charged with domestic abuse. That charge was later dropped.

But the second strike was enough for Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, who dismissed Irving. The player Rhoads touted as a future all-Big 12 player was out of the program.

“I understand why that happened,” Irving said. “I put him in a bad spot. He did what he had to do.”

Irving returned to his San Jacinto, Calif., home in the summer and concluded he wasn’t prepared to end his football career. But although he would have become immediately eligible at a non-Football Bowl Subdivision program — Division II Missouri Western, where the Chiefs train, reached out — Irving chose to work out at home instead.

On Saturdays, Irving made it a point to watch Iowa State games. He suffered along with his former teammates, who went winless in Big 12 play and finished 2-10 overall.

“Watching them would get me fired up,” Irving said. “I saw how I could have been helping them.”

After the games, Irving headed to the gym and got himself in solid physical shape. His agent and high school football coach arranged a one-man Pro Day at San Jacinto High, and seven teams showed up to watch Irving run a 4.84-second 40-yard dash and post a 38-inch vertical leap. It was good enough to generate some draft buzz, but Irving went unselected.

One team called about a free-agent deal: the Chiefs.

“They’re the ones that gave me a shot,” Irving said. “I know I messed up. We talked about it, and I can’t say how appreciative I am, whether I make the team or not. They allowed me to give it a shot when no other team would.”

After practice Monday, Irving put in extra work on the blocking sled with linebacker Tamba Hali. He was among the last to leave the field.

“There’s so much I have to improve on and so little time,” Irving said.