FRISCO, Texas – To help stay in shape during his four-game suspension, Dallas Cowboys defensive end David Irving turned to boxing.
“Cardio, man, it’s a lot of cardio and hand speed,” Irving said. “I figured I would mix it in. I was doing all types of cardio, metabolics, and I did this little MMA circuit thing, it was ridiculous, mixed in some boxing. It’s really good cardio. It works on hand speed, shoulder stability, things like that.”
At 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, Irving has some similarities to another Cowboys defensive end, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, who was 6-9 and 271 pounds. But Irving was not aware of Jones’ boxing past.
In 1979, six years into his career, Jones retired from football and became a pro boxer, following a dream he had as a young boy. That dream lasted a year and six fights -- all wins -- before he returned to the Cowboys in 1980.
When Jason Witten set the Cowboys mark for most games played (225) against the Denver Broncos in Week 2, he broke Jones’ record.
“Damn, that’s pretty cool,” Irving said when told of Jones’ foray into boxing.
If pro football did not work out, Irving said he would have considered a career in MMA, but unlike Jones he is not ready to walk away from football. Instead he is ready to start his season four games later than everybody else because of a suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
“Honestly, it’s been on my mind every day, thinking about getting back out there, staying out of trouble, keeping my head down, trying to get in the best shape possible to come back and help my boys,” Irving said.
At the end of last season, Irving was the Cowboys’ best defensive linemen. He finished fourth on the team in sacks with four, but he led the defense in quarterback pressures with 26. He also had five tackles for loss, five pass deflections, a fumble recovery and a team-high four forced fumbles.
“He's a really good football player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He's been impactful for us. He's still a young player learning, but he's demonstrated an ability to make plays and change the game.”
Irving will be in pads for the first time since training camp in practice today. The Cowboys have a one-game exemption for Irving and will not need to make a roster move unless they determine he can help them Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
That it is the Packers could be the biggest reason to activate him.
In last year’s regular-season meeting with the Packers, Irving was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after he forced three fumbles, sacked Aaron Rodgers and had a tackle for a loss and a pass deflection. In the playoff loss to Green Bay he had two pressures.
“I had such a good game against them last year, probably my best game of the season, and it’s pretty funny that I can come back against Green Bay,” Irving said. “It’s a good game. It’s very motivating. I’m just excited to get out there.”
Before the Cowboys can count on Irving, they need to see what kind of condition he is in. The boxing may help, but nothing gets a player ready to play football more than playing football. On a typical day, Irving would work out at Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney, Texas, where he would go through his boxing workouts in addition to football training, eat, take a nap, play video games and go to bed.
By rule, he was not allowed to have any contact with the coaches or staff, and his contact with teammates appeared to be limited.
“They’re always tired and busy because they’re actually working out and doing all this stuff,” Irving said. “So it was like I missed them for a month.”
Game days were the worst, watching “at home, alone.”
“It was pretty hard. I’m used to being out there with my boys and making an impact, helping out and just being a part of it,” Irving said. “You’re really not. You can’t talk to anybody, you can’t visit anybody. It sucked. It was pretty hard, but it kept me focused. It kept me hungry.”
And he hopes the boxing kept him in shape.