Bruce Irvin is used to shouldering lofty expectations. That’s part of the burden that comes with being a first-round draft pick, as the defensive end was for Seattle back in 2012.
Eight years later, Irvin is back with the Seahawks after they signed him to a one-year deal in March. Except this time, the expectations are even larger.
When the Seahawks drafted Irvin with the 15th overall pick, they were hoping he would be an effective pass rusher. At this juncture, however, they are relying on him to get to their opponents’ QB.
The defensive line represented Seattle’s most glaring hole going into the offseason, and as the re-signing of Jadeveon Clowney is looking more and more dubious, Irvin looks more like a necessity than he does a mere asset.
Last season, Irvin racked up a career-high 8.5 sacks for the Panthers, and he did it in just 13 games. Considering the Seahawks were 29th in sacks last year and 26th in total defense — these deficiencies taking place with Clowney on the roster — Irvin replicating his 2019 production is borderline essential for Seattle’s success.
Can he do it? Well, he seems confident enough.
“I think I’m a more polished player now than I was in Seattle,” said Irvin, who tallied 22 sacks in his four years with the Seahawks. “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.”
The Seahawks surprised a lot of people last year by winning 11 games and notching a playoff victory to boot. This was in part due to quarterback Russell Wilson playing like an MVP candidate for most of the season, but there were also some impressive defensive efforts — such as the overtime win vs. the 49ers in San Francisco and the two games in which Seattle held the Eagles to nine points.
Still, you have to wonder how often they would have won 11 games if their season was simulated 100 times. Given they were 5-0 in games decided by four points or fewer (and that doesn’t include the overtime win over Tampa Bay) and 9-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer, there may have been an element of luck in terms of their success.
And now with Clowney, their most impactful defensive player from last season (apologies to Bobby Wagner) not re-signed, the team looks vulnerable. But if the Seahawks can get a 10-sack year from Irvin — something that likely would have happened had he played all 16 games last season — they’re dangerous.
Irvin, of course, is happy as can be to return to Seattle. He expressed this glee with the media via a Zoom meeting Tuesday.
“I just wanted to come back, man. I can’t complain about anywhere I’ve been, but nothing has been like Seattle,” Irvin, 32, said. “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.”
You could argue that Irvin would have expressed similar enthusiasm regardless of where he signed. The happiest news conferences are always the ones in which players are introducing themselves, or in this case, reintroducing themselves, to a local fan base.
But this seems like genuine joy.
Of course, Irvin’s reunion with the Seahawks will be far more joyous if he can duplicate the career season he had with the Panthers last year. The difference between greatness and mediocrity could mean the difference between a postseason berth or not.
Irvin’s production isn’t a matter of want for the Seahawks — it’s a matter of need.