Since that controversial day in April, when the Seattle Seahawks made Bruce Irvin the No. 15 pick in the NFL draft, coach Pete Carroll has maintained that the rookie can be more than a pass-rush specialist.
On Sunday, Irvin will have a chance to prove it as he steps into Chris Clemons’ Leo spot when the Seahawks visit Atlanta for an NFC divisional playoff game. Clemons is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and damaged meniscus in his left knee.
“It does call for Bruce Irvin to step up,” Carroll said this week. “He’s been prepared for it. It won’t be a big transition, other than just playing time.”
“Leo is basically an outside linebacker – outside leverage, you run backside,” he said. “That’s all you do. Clem has done a great job of preparing me for situations like this. I’m just going to go out here – just another game, man.”
Except in one way. The fates have arranged things so Irvin’s first NFL start will come in his hometown of Atlanta.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “A lot of family is going to be watching. A lot of people who know me are going to be around. The stage is set, pretty much for me. I’m just going to do what I always do: bust my butt, play hard and run to the football.”
There was a time when Irvin was more interested in fleeing Atlanta than triumphantly returning home. As a teenager there, he was kicked out of his home, dropped out of school and dabbled in drugs and crime.
He saw the direction his life was heading, and he broke away to Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif.
“I was looking for any way to get out of my situation in Atlanta,” he said. “That was me having to play kickoff teams for 13 games in junior college, so be it. It was a way out of the hood and the environment I was in.”
After two seasons, he attracted the attention of major colleges. One of those was USC, then coached by Carroll – but Irvin picked West Virginia. His early selection by the Seahawks was widely panned by national media, but his eight sacks were the most this season by a rookie in the NFL, and the most ever by a Seahawks rookie.
“I’ve seen so many first-rounders that are not good, and some that are good,” said linebacker Leroy Hill, who held the Seahawks’ rookie sack record until Irvin took it. “I’m old enough to know that we can’t go off what people say, what people think. Let me see the kid in camp. And that’s a good pick. … I knew since training camp that he’s a good pick, you know?”
Irvin got his eight sacks while playing mostly in passing situations.
Clemons filled a full-time role on the other side, leading the Seahawks with 11.5 sacks and finishing seventh with 40 tackles.
It’s that second area – run defense – where Irvin is doubted.
However, he notes that for all his speed-rush reputation, he is only 6 or 7 pounds lighter than Clemons, who has mentored him in getting the job done against larger linemen.
“Clem helps me a lot with my technique: proper angles, hand placement and stuff like that,” Irvin said. “But it’s about the dog inside you, man. It’s me against you. You’ve got to win your one-on-one battles and hold the edge. I’ll be all right.”
Irvin also believes he catches a break this week in drawing his first start against an offense known most for its passing prowess.
“People talk about me playing the run,” he said. “I could see if we were playing San Francisco, but we’re playing Atlanta. … If we don’t get there and pressure (quarterback Matt Ryan), it’s going to be a long day for us.”
Even before Clemons’ injury, Carroll had said Irvin could become an every-down player and that the draft-day plan was for him to become the heir to Clemons’ position.
For now, Irvin believes he can do the job. But he doesn’t believe Sunday marks the day when the job becomes his.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “To be honest with you, I’m still depressed that Clem is down. He’s like a brother to me. He showed me a lot. Next year, I’ll be in the same role: me and Clem rotating, whatever. Coming here and … taking over Clem’s spot – I’m not looking for that. My time will come. When it’s that time, that all happens on itself.”Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks