When the Seahawks selected Bruce Irvin with the 15th overall pick, I was surprised but not too surprised. Like everyone in the room who wasn't ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., the selection sent me scrambling to my computer to find some information on this guy. Just like last year.
Once I found his bio and footage of his sacks, I started to get excited about him.
Here's what to like:
Speed, speed and more speed. But it's not just about speed. It's Irvin's quickness and ability to change direction that is so promising. Certainly his sub-4.5 40-yard dash time is nice, but it's quickness that really matters out on the field and that's what will help Irvin improve Seattle's sack total.
The 20-yard shuttle, the best measure of quickness, is part of the NFL combine testing every year. Combine participants run five yards one way, stop just long enough to touch the line five yards from where they started, change direction and run 10 yards back the other way, change directions and then run through the starting line.
Irvin's time of 4.03 was 10th best at the combine. That's not just 10th for defensive linemen and linebackers, it's 10th overall. His time was equivalent to those of the fastest defensive backs and receivers.
These combine numbers don't mean a thing if it doesn't translate onto the football field. But when you watch Irvin play, he plays fast, too.
High motor. Here's a term that gets overused, but what it means to me is this: Bruce Irvin loves to play football. He looks like a kid out on the playground after he's been cooped up in class all day. He plays with a real love for the game. As he said in his press conference Saturday, "I love to run." It shows because he is a player that truly runs through the echo of the whistle. All day long.
Nice repertoire of pass-rush moves. His speed off the edge allows him to simply run past and around offensive tackles and tight ends. Irvin said Saturday that he feels he can run forward much faster than any lineman can "kick step" backwards. He did plenty of times at West Virginia, registering 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Most importantly, he has the ability to do something that I haven't seen here in Seattle since my old teammate Rufus Porter used to do it. Irvin can turn a corner at full speed. He leans his body so his shoulders are about three feet off the ground and doesn't slow down. This leads me to believe that he understands angles, he understands that he must fight for every last inch of space in order to "get home," and he never slows down to do it.
Once you get that corner, it opens up a number of effective moves that he possesses. He has a nice inside move in which he drives the tackle up field with his speed off the ball and then sticks his foot in the ground and comes underneath the block. He also has a little "hop step" where he stutter-steps and then, depending on the reaction of the tackle, comes underneath or goes around the outside to get to the quarterback. His frightening speed is what makes all of this possible.
Coaching. In his initial interview just moments after he was drafted, Irvin mentioned that he hadn't been coached much at West Virginia. One thing I saw led me to believe he was right. Several of his sacks came from an alignment that was at least one yard yard off the ball. Once he's taught a more consistent alignment and starts to crowd the line of scrimmage a little tighter, he should be able to "get home" more effectively.
I'm sure Todd Wash, who does a great job coaching the Seahawks' defensive line, can teach him a few more moves to add to his bag of tricks.
A dangerous combination. Add an explosive get-off that reminds me of New York Giants sack specialist Osi Umenyiora to the noise the 12th Man provides and it'll be a long day for opposing blockers at Seahawks home games. After each sack you may hear what sounds like boos, but don't worry. That's "BRUUUUUUUCE" not "BOOOOO." Hopefully we'll hear a lot of that in 2012.
A little reverence, please
Everyone who has the slightest bit of love for the NFL is entitled to their opinion about the draft. The popularity of anything having to do with the NFL is eye-popping. In some markets across the country, the draft beat out the NBA playoffs.
So it's not surprising that everyone, including the guy that bags my groceries, has a mock draft. Mock drafts are being filled out as much as March Madness brackets. So you may not agree with what the Seahawks did in the draft this year, but all I ask for is a little reverence.
On the Seahawks' website there was a shot of the team's draft room, where everyone from head coach Pete Carroll to general manager John Schneider to Midlands area scout Aaron Hineline sat working their telephones and computers. What you have there are approximately 20 guys who have been scouring the country for the last two years. This group has logged hundreds of thousands of travel miles and watched thousands of hours of film on guys like Irvin, second-round pick Bobby Wagner and third rounder Russell Wilson.
Because I understand this, when someone asks me about these players I typically respond, "Well, I guess they saw something they liked." That's not to say these guys are always right. No one bats .1000 in the NFL. We all remember that the Patriots drafted quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round. Genius, right? Let's not forget that they picked Dave Stachelski in the round before that.
Every year there are busts and booms and the second someone finds the "magic recipe" allowing 100 percent guaranteed results in talent evaluation, every scout in the NFL will be out of a job. Until then, I think you have to put your faith in the guys in that room and hope they find lots of guys like K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Doug Baldwin and Brandon Browner.
And maybe Bruce Irvin, too.