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


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.