Bruce Irvin signed with the Seahawks earlier this offseason, but the former first-round pick was already thinking about a return to Seattle last year as he was finishing out the season with the Carolina Panthers.
Coming back to Seattle, where Irvin spent his first four seasons from 2012-2015, was on his mind after the Seahawks played in Carolina in Week 15 last season, and again when the Seahawks were flying home victorious after a Wild Card playoff game in Philadelphia.
Irvin has played for three different teams since leaving Seattle, and while he has nothing bad to say about his experiences with the Raiders, Falcons and Panthers, that time away made him better appreciated how the Seahawks are run under Pete Carroll and John Schneider.
"After we played them in Week 14 or so, I was like, 'Damn, I wish I was with those guys,'" Irvin said on a video press conference Tuesday. "After the Philly game, I sent Bobby a text message while they were on the plane like, 'Damn, I wish I was on that plane with y'all.' I just wanted to come back, man. I can't complain about anywhere I've been, but nothing has been like Seattle. From how they travel to how they practice, how they take care of their older players, from the cafeteria, from the facility being on the lake, it's just everything is Grade A. They run it right up there up there. I'm just happy to be back."
Irvin was able to make that desire a reality earlier this spring when he signed with the Seahawks, a move Seattle hopes will upgrade a pass rush that produced 28 sacks last season, tied for the second fewest in the NFL. Irvin, who had a career-high 8.5 sacks in 13 games last season, calls a return to Seattle a "refreshing" move at this stage of his career.
"I would say refreshing, very refreshing knowing I'm going to a situation where I know that they run it very professional and take care of their players," he said. "You going to always work, you're always going to compete, and you're always be competitive in every game you step in. So for me at this stage of my career, I'm going to the best situation. I felt like going back home—Seattle I consider a football home at least—that was the best thing that could happen to me, especially in year nine. I couldn't ask for a better situation."
In addition to rejoining a handful of former Seahawks teammates, including fellow 2012 draft picks Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson, Irvin will also be reunited with three people who he credits with helping give him a successful career—Schneider and Carroll, who took a chance on him out of West Virginia, and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., someone Irvin called a father figure in his life, from his days as Seattle's linebackers coach to when he helped bring Irvin to Oakland as the Raiders' defensive coordinator.
"The guy took me to Oakland with him, and he also played a major role in bringing me back to Seattle," Irvin said. "Pete and John, I'll always thank them for giving me my first opportunity coming out, because you guys know I had major red flags, and they stuck their noses out there for me and took a chance. It came back around full circle, they gave me another opportunity. Words can't explain how much I appreciate them."
As for Irvin's role in Seattle's defense, he looks to be competing to play a role that's "pretty much the same" as the one he held for most of his career in Seattle after moving from defensive end as a rookie to strongside linebacker.
"First and second down, (strongside linebacker), and third down defensive end, so it's pretty much the same," he said.
And despite joking that being in his ninth season makes him feel "old as hell," Irvin believes the Seahawks are getting a better version of him in 2020 than the player who left in free agency four years ago.
"I think I'm a more polished player now than I was in Seattle," he said. "I think I'm a better player now than I was my first four years in Seattle. The game is slower, I know how to set up certain moves, I know how to study film now. It's just a lot of things. I know how to take care of my body better. It's the things that come with maturity and with age and being around the right group of people that taught me from the beginning—Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Chris Clemons, Michael Bennett, those guys showed me when I was younger how to be a pro on and off the field. It's just crazy that I'm in their position now. I've got to show younger guys how to take care of their bodies, study, stuff like that. It's just crazy, man, but nonetheless I'm just happy to be in this situation."
Irvin is one of several pieces added by the Seahawks this offseason to help address the pass rush along with fellow free-agent signing Benson Mayowa and 2019 draft picks Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson And while he nor anyone else knows just how much the Seahawks can improve upon last year's sack total, Irvin thinks he is going to be a part of a pretty good pass rush.
"Pass rushing is very difficult in this league," he said. "People just think you can line up out there and the team go get 50 sacks a season. I was in Carolina and we worked our asses off last year to get 54 sacks; it's a grind. With this group, it's a young group. Benson, he produced last year, but I don't think Benson has ever been in a major starting role as a premier rusher, but I have complete 100 percent faith he can do that. We've got a young group, and we've got to work. I couldn't predict how many sacks we're going to get right now, but I think we've got a young, talented group, and I'm going to work my ass off to lead these boys. Whoever comes in, we'll welcome with open arms, and they better be ready to work. I think we've got a talented group. I think we're going to be better than a lot of people think we are."