Bruce Irvin, LB #51
College: West Virginia
When the Seahawks drafted Bruce Irvin with the 15th pick in April, many people thought they did so with an arm extender––Irvin seemed like a big reach that high in the first round.
It wasn’t so much his troubled past, which he seemed to have put far behind him. It was the fact that he seemed like a one-dimensional, part-time player. His play in the first couple of preseason games seemed to validate those doubts, as he had little impact. He seemed like the major project many thought he would be.
But then came the third game against Kansas City, and he showed signs of life as he helped pressure quarterback Matt Cassel for most of three quarters. He still ended up with nothing in the stat column, but he helped teammates get to the QB. The signs were there — even if they were written in chalk on old wooden boards.
In game four, those signs turned into big, bright neon billboards that announced, “See! I can play!” Irvin had one and a half sacks and also caused a fumble on a punt return as he played the entire game against Oakland. He was relentless in pursuit, even if he didn’t always catch the ballcarrier. It was the breakthrough performance everyone had been waiting to see.
“It feels so good to finally break that ice and just finally get my feet wet and just experience what an NFL sack is like,” Irvin told Curt Menefee and Warren Moon on the Q13 Fox broadcast right after the game. “I think I had a pretty good night. I feel as if I got better each and every game this preseason, and hopefully it carries over to the regular season.”
The one thing that has been apparent from Irvin all preseason is the attribute that made coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider fall in love with him: his speed.
The Seahawks viewed him as the number three defensive player in the draft, behind linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Mark Barron. Both of those players were gone when the Seahawks’ turn came at pick number 12. They ended up trading down to #15, and Schneider told reporters he considered moving down one more time, but didn’t want to lose Irvin.
When the Hawks took him, Schneider even told owner Paul Allen to expect them to be criticized. They were. And they will be again if Irvin does not develop into a 10-sack rush man.
He racked up 22.5 sacks in 26 games (only six starts) at West Virginia, and he did that with minimal coaching, he told Seattle reporters after he was drafted.
“I know y’all heard I’m a one-trick pony,” Irvin told reporters then. “But the crazy thing is I got 23 sacks in two years and I’ve never been coached on any of that — that’s all athletic ability. If I get a little coaching in me, just imagine what I can do.”
He already has come a long way with a little coaching. He is obviously very raw. His main method of rushing this preseason has been with speed and a bull rush. He will have to develop setup moves and counter moves if he is going to beat NFL tackles consistently. But he showed steady improvement over the last month.
“I’m comfortable now,” he told reporters after the Oakland game. “Those first couple games, I didn’t know what to expect. Those were my first NFL games. It was different. But I settled in the past two weeks and just kept busting my butt, and it paid off for me.”
Now we’ll see whether it pays off for the Seahawks throughout the season.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.