RENTON – Bruce Irvin doesn’t hide his conflicting emotions.
Irvin is expected to play significantly for the first time this preseason against Oakland on Thursday after missing most of the offseason with a groin injury. But it’s also the last time he will play until Week 5 because of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
“I’m excited, but at the same time it’s hard because I’m going to be gone from these guys for four weeks,” Irvin said. “I’m just going to go out there and bust my tail and make them miss me when I’m gone.”
He will do so at a new position, one he has apparently taken to but has yet to play much at.
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The Seahawks used Irvin as a pass-rush specialist as a rookie last year. He played primarily in nickel situations on third down and had only one objective: Get to the quarterback. He had eight sacks and showed the combination of size and speed that led Seattle to draft him in the first round.
But the Seahawks looked at their roster this offseason and realized they needed to find a way to keep him on the field. Irvin played the same position as veteran Chris Clemons and Seattle also signed free-agent Cliff Avril, another veteran defensive end.
In April, general manager John Schneider was asked if Irvin could play outside linebacker, but he didn’t say the conversion was going to be made. “Athletically, absolutely,” Schneider said, “but as a pass-rusher he needs to improve his game as well.”
Linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., though, approached Irvin early in the offseason about making the switch to linebacker.
“I thought he was joking,” Irvin said. “When we broke up into position meetings, they told me to go to linebacker. It is what it is. I think I’m going to be pretty successful at it, if you ask me.”
Irvin shrugs off the difficulty of the transition, calling it “easy.” He played some safety early in his college career, he says, and hasn’t had much problem dropping in coverage or playing in space.
“For others, it may be an interesting dilemma and problem,” Norton said. “But for him, he’s so natural. He has all the tools.”
He added, “I think we knew he’d be pretty good and a guy with great potential for that position, but I don’t think any of us thought he would take to it this naturally.”
As a strongside linebacker, Irvin will line up over the tight end and therefore be responsible for covering him. He will also need to drop in zone coverage and cover running backs out of the backfield. The idea is to get Irvin on the field more on first and second down.
“Coverage is a big part of it,” Norton said, “but he’s extremely athletic and really natural. Things don’t come hard for him.”
Yet he only returned to practice last week and played just seven snaps Friday against Green Bay.
“More than anything it helped me mentally,” Irvin said. “I haven’t played all preseason, and I’ve got these four games coming up so I felt like I had to play. I was kind of down on myself, so getting those seven snaps really benefited me mentally more than anything.”
In the afternoon on May 17, Irvin released a statement through the Seahawks that read like the thousands of team-released statements before it. He apologized to “teammates, coaches and Seahawks fans for making a mistake” and expressed disappointment in his judgment after the suspension was announced.
But then Irvin did something else. Still needing to vent, he pulled out his iPad later that afternoon, opened the Notes app and typed 206 words. He took a screenshot and posted it on Twitter. A second apology, but this one straight from the source.
“It’s crazy to see your name runs across the ticker for negative things,” the message said. “I messed up and I feel so bad and have been depressed for weeks now. I’ve had sleepless nights because I know when this came out, I would let so many people down, including myself. I have worked so hard to rebuild my image and it takes another blow.”
Said Irvin, “It was from the heart, and the fans and people that support Seattle deserved that: An honest, truthful statement. That’s what I did.”
Two days before the suspension became public, Irvin posted a picture on Twitter showing off his new haircut. Gone were the recognizable dreads that dangled below his shoulders. In their place was a close-crop haircut. He added a two-word caption to the photo: “New beginning!”
“If you look back on your life, things happen to really turn you,” Norton said. “You see his braids are off. He looks like a regular guy now. He’s a pretty handsome dude. He understands that if he wants to be the player he really dreams about, he’s got to change some things in his life. This is the consequence of it. This is something that’s going to be held up in his face that this is what happens when you do something wrong.
“There’s no doubt that this is a consequence and a reward because he’s going to be better for it.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org