When Bruce Irvin came into the NFL as a first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2012, it was believed he could be a superb pass rusher.
The former West Virginia star, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds and lightning quick, was called “the most natural pass rusher in the entire draft” by NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock.
Mayock said Irvin had “an explosive get-off and he’s an explosive player.”
Yet in four seasons with the Seahawks, Irvin’s best sack year was his first, when he collected eight. He had 22 over the four seasons.
Irvin, however, developed as a fine all-around outside linebacker in Seattle, solid in coverage and run support and still capable of getting to the quarterback when needed. On about a third of all plays he was on the field, he was in pass coverage.
But now that Irvin is a Raider, having signed a four-year, free-agent deal in the first week of free agency, Irvin says he’s expecting to reach a higher level of production. He’s hopeful that playing in a different scheme under defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. – and aligned opposite Khalil Mack – he will be better able to use his pass-rush skills.
“I haven’t even scratched what I know I can do, man,” he told former Raiders linebacker Kirk Morrison and Bruce Murray in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio this week. He said playing strong-side linebacker was an important role in Seattle, and he believed he did a good job in it. Now he wants to prove he can get to the quarterback.
“I honestly felt like if I stayed in that (Seahawks) system, I don’t think I ever would be the player that I think I can be in this league, and that’s being a pass rusher,” he said. “SAM (strong-side linebacker) is cool, but you can do your job the whole game at SAM linebacker and you’ll have two tackles. I just want to be utilized more and get put in positions more to make plays.
“I really think Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton Jr. are going to do a great job of really allowing me to do that.”
The analytics website Pro Football Focus ranked Irvin among its top 10 potential defensive unrestricted free agents. Wrote PFF: “Playing the strong-side linebacker role in Seattle’s defense isn’t an easy one; and with the athleticism of Irvin, it’s no surprise that the team asks so much out of him when he’s on the field. It’s what makes him a slightly enigmatic player, with the question being how he might fare in a more pass-rush focused role.”
Now Irvin and the Raiders are about to find out.