LOUISVILLE KY - NOVEMBER 20: Justin Burke #13 of the Louisville Cardinals is sacked by Bruce Irvin #11 of the West Virginia Mountaineers during the game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on November 20 2010 in Louisville Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
DK Edit: Charlie first published this post on April 8th, and it's definitely worth another read.
It's no secret upgrading speed and athleticism in the front seven is a main priority for the Seahawks. It's also no secret improving the pass rush is a main priority. Bruce Irvin provides big-time speed and pass rush, an interesting player to pay attention to heading into the draft.
To start with, his childhood was unconventional. "I have a different story than a lot of these guys. I grew up in a rough neighborhood in Atlanta, dropped out of high school in 11th grade and got in some trouble. I ran with the wrong crowd. I finally saw the light and got my GED, took the test and passed all five parts on the first time. That January I went to school and never looked back." Irvin has generated buzz during the draft season, with both his strong combine performance and recent run in with the law after allegedly breaking a sign at a sandwich shop. He brings a lot of questions to the table, but if a team can find the answers they may also find a big upside.
Not until recently had I watched more than a few clips of Irvin, but after becoming more familiar with him I think he's an intriguing prospect. At just under 6'3" his 33 3/8" arms are a plus. His combine page provides some very strong test numbers - he is supposedly faster than his 4.43 40-yard dash when at a lighter weight - to back up his 22.5 sacks and his ability to make tackles behind the line (14 for loss in '10). The oft-cited Greg Cosell offered "Irvin a quick accelerator. Exploded off edge. Excellent closing speed. Reminded me of Colts Mathis at times. Movement to play 3-4 OLB." Irvin is an interesting case because he saw very little time standing up as a rusher. For all but a few snaps of what I've seen; he was lined up from the B-gap to wide end but mostly at 5-tech or out, and on both sides of the line with either or both hands down. He was also used as an edge rusher on the punt return team.
You'll see his main rushing moves: dipping the shoulder when going outside; going hard upfield before countering, planting and crossing the tackle en route to the quarterback; he'll work the bull rush and sometimes get free to make the play with effort (this happens inside as well). He has a hesitation step that allows for separation or helps set up the inside move crossing a lineman (usually the tackle); this helps him find good angles to the quarterback. It's worth noting help in pass protection slows Irvin down at times, and at others he simply wins with athleticism. He showed some ability to stunt inside, but if he doesn't win with speed lineman can get him to the ground. In general, when Irvin can keep himself free and not get overpowered he's dangerous.
He is active in passing lanes, capable of forcing fumbles and chases downfield with a strong motor. He flashes against the run, but playing it consistently isn't his strongest suit. Also, there is very little to go on in terms of playing backwards as I saw one snap in coverage (3:14, 2010 season video). His instincts and recognition seemed hot and cold, I think partly because his aggressiveness and pass-rushing nature can put him out of position. This is where it gets interesting in terms of projecting his role in the NFL; is he a defensive end or linebacker, a situational/sub-package rusher or capable of contributing on all downs? I found this nugget interesting. "I started my senior year, maybe four to five games and it just wasn't working out, I noticed coming off my junior year, less was more for me. Playing 6, 7, 8 snaps and me getting two sacks or more was really productive for me. And not getting injured and coming out of the game with a bunch of bruises. I think I benefited from playing less." The NFL is bigger, faster, stronger than college; does he feel the same way about playing in the NFL?
One impression that grew upon me while watching Irvin the first time around is that he looked technically raw as a pass rusher and seemed to get by mostly on his impressive athletic ability. I wondered how his handwork and technique could improve with good coaching, as I personally didn't see a player that looked "coached up." I did a little digging and stumbled upon this: "I feel like, to be honest with you, I've never been taught how to pass rush. The last two years, the 23 sacks that I got, it was all natural ability. Not to knock my coaches, but they emphasized stopping the run, and that's what we did. We never did any pass rushing drills. I feel like, with the proper coaching and the right people around me I feel like I can be a very productive player in this league." Question answered about his coaching when rushing the passer. A new question; I wonder if he means right people on or off the field? Since he's turned his life around after a rough past the gray areas shouldn't be ignored. My thinking is the positive, collective environment in Seattle couldn't hurt the cause of launching Irvin down the right path.
I think Irvin is a guy that, if a team can find the answers about where he is best suited, could become a dynamic player. He's already shown what he can do with minimal coaching; what happens when he gets coached up and perhaps moved around the field more - remember what Jason Jones said about being drawn to the passion of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. I don't know how the front office feels about Irvin's off the field issues, but on the field he brings a dimension the Seahawks have been lacking in conjunction with Chris Clemons and are yet to see consistently from Dexter Davis, a former late round pick they hope can become an impact player rushing the passer.
Irvin is not scheduled for a visit with the Seahawks, but that doesn't mean they aren't interested in him. We learned last year with James Carpenter the organization was proud of the fact that their strong interest in Carpenter remained pretty much unknown, to give a bit of context around if having a visit is a true indicator of interest in a player. Have they already answered their questions on Irvin, are they trying to remain under the radar, or have they moved on from considering him? My impression is that Irvin's draft stock is fluctuating and he is a player that generates a variety of opinion. If a team projects him as more than just an impact reserve or even a starter he'll likely be taken within the first two days of the draft.
He's a type of player Seattle will be considering in a few weeks: what price do they want to pay, how many picks do they want to invest in the position? Do they take polish or sure production, and are they willing to role the dice for upside; maybe they take a combination.
Take a look at the videos after the jump. Observations, thoughts, concerns about Irvin?