Seahawks’ “gamble” on Bruce Irvin paying off

Posted Oct 30, 2013

When reports surfaced prior to last year’s NFL Draft that Bruce Irvin didn’t have what it took to play linebacker, Pete Carroll didn’t listen. The Seahawks’ coach knew differently, and now Irvin is becoming a difference-maker at the position.

As the defender went up to intercept the pass, only the “1” on his uniform was visible. So the immediate thought at the Edward Jones Dome on Monday night was that strong safety Kam Chancellor (No. 31) had made another impressive play.

Upon further review, it was No. 51 – linebacker Bruce Irvin. Make that converted rush-end Bruce Irvin.

Told of that case of mistaken identity in the locker room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Wednesday, Irvin laughed and offered, “You’re not the first one to tell me that.”

But Irvin also took it for what it was – a compliment. Chancellor is an athletic, lower-the-boom safety who has played in the Pro Bowl and started 39 games the past 2½ seasons for the Seahawks. Irvin was selected in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft because of his pass-rushing ability as a defensive end, moved to strong-side linebacker during the offseason and was making just his fourth NFL start against the St. Louis Rams.

Oh, and the interception came 20 yards downfield – and as part of an impressive performance where Irvin also had nine tackles and a fumble-forcing sack. It was his career-high for tackles in the NFL and his first interception. Ever.

Irvin’s efforts were so good that it prompted a mea culpa by coach Pete Carroll during his Wednesday news conference, when the focus should have shifted to Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at CenturyLink Field.

“I didn’t mention much after the game about what Bruce Irvin did in this game,” Carroll said. “Bruce had a fantastic football game for us. He was all over the place. He had eight (solo) tackles, and he had a sack, and a forced fumble, and a pick. Just looked really comfortable playing the position and all the different things we’re doing with him. There was a thought that this was an experiment at one time. It’s totally working out and we’re really excited about what he’s doing.

“A lot of guys played well, but I didn’t mention him and I thought it was worth it.”

Irvin as a linebacker was something that some dismissed during the evaluation process leading up to the draft last year. A few teams put the 6-foot-3, 248-pound Irvin through linebacker drills in private workouts and the word was he didn’t – and couldn’t – cut it.

“The results of that workout were: he doesn’t have what it takes to play linebacker – he’s uncomfortable, he’s a-fish-out-of-water kind of thing,” Carroll said. “I heard that, and I totally dismissed it. Because I’d already seen him do stuff. He’s like a defensive back playing defensive end, athletically.”

When Carroll was the coach at USC, he recruited Irvin when he was at Mt. San Antonio Junior College – where Irvin did play safety. He also played quarterback and wide receiver in high school.

“I don’t know what that workout was like. It must have been horrible,” Carroll laughed. “I can’t even imagine the drills they put him through that they would show otherwise. Because I think you saw perfectly on that play, he looked like a cornerback covering a guy down the sideline.”  

Irvin doesn’t even remember the workout, or the rap that followed. But then, he doesn’t care.

“I don’t know. I don’t worry about that,” Irvin said. “I only worry about what I can control.”

But that theory that Irvin couldn’t drop into coverage played into the surprise factor when he did indeed drop and make an interception – on “Monday Night Football,” no less. Was too much made of it?

“That’s what the media will do,” Irvin said. “They’ve got to make a story. I’m a person who likes to prove people wrong. When somebody says I can’t do something, I just go out there and do it.”

People have said a lot of negative things about Irvin, and he even admits he comes with “a lot of baggage, a lot of personnel issues.” Then he was suspended for the first four games this season.

“I think Pete saw a guy who, if he surrounded with a lot of positive things, could get a lot of great production out of him,” said Irvin, who led all NFL rookies with eight sacks last season. “I always thank Pete and John (Schneider, the general manager) for taking a chance on me because last year there was a lot of stuff being said about me.

“But these guys still believe in me, and that means a lot.”

If Irvin continues playing as well as he did on Monday night, he’ll make believers of a lot more people.