What Bruce Irvin will have to learn to become an elite pass rusher

Bruce Irvin has already signed his rookie contract. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE

On Draft Day 2012 I was one of probably thousands or Seahawks fans who were anxiously awaiting the announcement of the team’s first round pick.  Having reviewed my list of “experts predictions”, I was thinking QB or a big strong Defensive End with a reputation for stopping the run and rushing the QB.  So when Roger Goodell announced; “The Seattle Seahawks select…..BRUCE IRVIN”, I was one of the thousands of voices that were audibly and simultaneously heard exclaiming “Whua??  Who???”  The next minutes and hours were the things born from our worst nightmares.  With the “experts” pronouncing it “THE worst pick of the draft”, and asking, “what was Seattle thinking”?  And those were the kinder comments.  Then as the days went by we heard, “well…yeah, some teams had Irvin going in the late first round”, and “he was the best pure pass rusher in the draft”.  Ok, so maybe this wasn’t so bad.  I left it at that and went about getting all excited about our other picks, especially Russell Wilson, whom I had picked as my “dream player” of the draft.  I still think he was a great, if not a little risky, steal of the draft.

As training camp began, I started thinking about Irvin again.  I decided to flush everything critics had to say about him either good or bad, and watch some game footage of him and come to my own conclusions.  The big thing with Irvin is you have to watch both the 2010 Junior year and the 2011 Senior year footage.  Big difference.  In 2010 West Virginia ran Irvin in something resembling a 4-3 defensive scheme on passing downs.  In 2011 they inexplicably changed to a 3-4.  I watched the 2011 footage first and noticed there were many, MANY times Irving overran the pocket and ended up well blocked and out of the play.  All his speed seemed to do was assure he’d be further away from the QB when he released the ball.  On runs around his side, he often over-penetrated and watched the runner pass him going the other direction.  In fact, if I were an opposing coach pondering what I’d do on third and long, I would run a slant or sweep inside Irvin every time.
Flash back to 2010.  Different story.  With better angles to the quarterback and another guy on the D line to take on the extra offensive lineman, Irvin seemed to take a much more direct line to the QB.  There wasn’t the constant over-running of the play where he’d end up 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, well out of the play.  He was right there in the pocket harassing the QB after planting the Tackle on his back.  On runs, he was rarely too deep in the backfield and was able to change directions and get a hand on the running back.  His 2010 season is without question why the Seahawks picked him.  They will use him in a 4 man front where he’s more comfortable, and at least initially mostly on passing downs.  There are a few things Irvin will HAVE to learn if he’s going to avoid the “bust” tag, however.
One thing is glaringly obvious watching his 2011 footage.  He has really just one “technique”, if you want to call it that.  He basically uses his speed to try to run around the outside of the tackle and come back up from behind the QB to get the sack.  More often than not the QB will have gotten rid of the ball long before Irvin can reclaim some field after getting around the tackle.  The times Irvin did get sacks, it was usually when the coverage was good and the QB was scrambling.  What Irvin will need in the NFL is a move to get off the tackle and take the short route in front of the tackle to the QB.  That usually means a spin or a swim move.  Irvin has long arms, so he should be able to develop those moves which will help him disengage from the tackle and make his move to the QB.  Doing that will save him 2 seconds and give him a chance at getting to the QB before he makes the decision to throw or scramble.  New techniques will also help Irvin more quickly spot a runner trying to cut inside him and give him a chance to cut him off before he gets past the line of scrimmage.
Bruce Irvin has the athleticism to be one of the best ever at his position in a 4-3 defense in the future.  This season, look for his development as he learns some new NFL-level moves.  These techniques will undoubtedly require him to spend some time in the weight room to develop the necessary upper body strength, so don’t expect miracles in 2012.  I hope to see solid work on 3rd down using his speed and his motor to run down scrambling QB’s and the occasional running back.  In a year or two, as his coaches work with him on technique and as he gets stronger, I expect to see him make some amazing plays that will even surprise Mr. Irvin himself.

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Tags: 4-3 Defense Bruce Irvin Pass Rusher Seattle Seahawks Spin Move Swim Move West Virginia

  • Tommy

    Descent article but you have some facts flat out wrong, WVU ran the exact same defense in both his years at WVU, the 3-3-5 Stack. Yes, there were some times that we ran a 4 man front but that is just a variation of the defensive scheme, mostly on short yardage downs. Bruce’s sack totals were down in 2011 vs 2010, because of the increased attention being the focal point of the offense to try to stop him. They chipped with RB or lined up TEs to help the OT he was going up against. Remember in 2010, he was #2 in sacks in the country.

    No doubt in my mind will Bruce be successful in Seattle. The LEO position is tailor made for him. His first step, will be one of the best in the NFL this year. Does he still have some developing to do, sure but who doesn’t have to adjust some when the step up in competition. Bruce will have double digit sacks this year, book market!

    • Biscuit

      not totally accurate. most of the time bruce came in his junior year was on passing downs that we brought in a sub package and used a 4 man front. his senior year when he was playing all downs, he was mostly used in 3-man looks.

      he did get a lot more attention his senior year. partly because we toned down our 4 man fronts, part because everybody knew he was coming, and also we didn’t have Neild taking up 2 guys every time.

      My only thing in this article is that Bruce has a pretty good club move. The speed rush is his bread and butter, but once a tackle starts to cheat a bit, he has a really explosive plant that he will use and run right in front of the tackle

      • Biscuit

        poor grammar, punctuation, and word choices lead to an amusing first sentence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10716205 Michael Bernazzani

    well after watching practice today I can see why the brought in Bryant… Durham is dropping everything. RW looked great to me today. #12thMan P.S. Winston Guy is much bigger than I thought, Chacelloresque

  • http://www.facebook.com/dennis.shimmel Dennis A Shimmel

    Great to hear That Flynn was smoking on Sunday with the firsts. I say we stop the nonsense and let him run with the first string and get all the needed practice!

  • Justa Guy

    Scott, I am disappointed in your article. It just seems like lazy research. I watched two videos of his sacks and saw several different techniques used with less than 5 minutes of research, yet you’re here trying to tell me he has only one technique. I saw a bull rush where he drove a left tackle, that looked like he outweighed Irvin by 100 pounds, back into the QB and all three of them went down. I saw a speed rush where he went around a tackle and threw the QB down in less than 1.5 seconds. After that, I saw the most amazing jump cut I’ve seen from a DE. Irvin set the guy up with an amazing first step and then cut inside for yet another sack. There was also a spin move after a quick first step to the outside that opened up a lane to the QB…sack.

    I think Irvin uses what he feels necessary to get to the QB and will need to work a bit on hand placement and footwork to be able to excel in the NFL. But to say he only has one technique was lazy.

    • Scott Collier

      What you’re seeing is a fantastic athlete. You are not seeing a
      specific technique. You said; “I think Irvin uses what he feels
      necessary to get to the QB”. I agree. But that’s raw athleticism, not a
      refined technique. Irvin has himself said he doesn’t know a lot of
      techniques, but is looking forward to learning more. Also, you need to
      look at not just the “highlight” clips, but the clips where he didn’t
      get to the QB, and there are a lot of them. Thanks for reading!