Bruce Irvin has been called a lot of things since Seattle selected him No. 15 overall in the 2012 draft.
A reach. A tweener. A specialist. More recently, Irvin has been dubbed a bust.
That last one, however, is at the very least premature and potentially misguided given the hip injury Irvin had been playing through.
In an otherwise sublime Super Bowl season, Irvin was the one player on the Seahawks' roster who took a sizable step back in 2013. And after undergoing surgery to correct a hip problem earlier this offseason, Irvin may be poised to make the most surprising breakthrough once he's back to 100 percent.
Whether that's this season remains to be seen. He's unlikely to be practicing when the Seahawks open training camp next week, and he may not be ready for the start of the regular season.
That uncertainty has caused some to wonder whether this will be another lost season for the former first-round pick, forgetting that Irvin's combination of size and speed is extraordinary even in a league chock full of the absurdly swift. Irvin has been on the short list of the most athletic Seahawks since he was drafted, right up there with safety Earl Thomas and receiver Percy Harvin in terms of the combination of speed, hand-eye coordination and just raw ability.
The question was never about Irvin's tools but the application on the football field. That question became a concern last season when Irvin moved to linebacker, and his production took a step back.
That's why I found a statement that Irvin made on Twitter over the weekend so very interesting.
"Rehabbing sucks!" Irvin wrote. "But man my hip feels 100 times better!"
What if Irvin was limited last season not by the position switch but by his body? What if the one thing that was considered a given – his extraordinary athleticism – was compromised by an injury?
Irvin underwent hip surgery on June 2, the same kind of procedure Harvin underwent last August. The surgery has Irvin's status in doubt to open training camp and for the start of the season, but it's also the reason I believe Irvin is poised for a breakthrough once he fully recovers.
Seattle's linebackers are among the fastest in the league, but Irvin is the fastest of all of them. Not only that, but he brings a pass-rushing prowess the Seahawks have simply never had at that position under coach Pete Carroll. Not when they tried to put Aaron Curry in that spot back in 2010. Not last season when Irvin moved there.
Irvin was the one player on Seattle's roster who took a step back last season. He saw his pass-rushing opportunities first dwindle and then evaporate, finishing the year with just two sacks and 31 solo tackles. His acrobatic interception in St. Louis in Week 8 was his most memorable moment of a largely forgettable season. He didn't even start in the Super Bowl.
It wasn't the kind of impact that was hoped for after a rookie season that had been so promising. While he was a part-time player in 2012, Irvin totaled eight sacks, most of any rookie in the NFL.
The question was whether he could be an every-down player. That question remains as Irvin enters his third year, and while surgery should never be mistaken for good news, the fact that he's feeling so much better is a reason to think last season's step back was more like a temporary setback that had more to do with injury than ability.
On a team with a growing litany of stars (and salaries), Irvin has something that is incredibly valuable: room to grow. It would be a mistake to write him off this soon.