Like nearly every NFL fan and analyst watching the 2012 NFL draft, I was left scratching my head at the Seattle Seahawks' selection of Bruce Irvin with the 15th overall pick in the draft. Not because I didn't think he was a good player, but rather, because I didn't even know who he was. (Admittedly, I was too caught up in all the pre-draft hype of mock drafts and expert opinion.)
So, like any other diehard Seahawks junkie, the first thing I did upon hearing his name called was pull up every highlight reel I could find on YouTube to find out exactly what type of player we had just invested so heavily in.
What I found was enough to excite me, and if there's one thing we've learned since John Schneider and Pete Carroll took over, it's that we should trust them in their decision-making, especially when talking about the Seahawks defense. With players like Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and K.J. Wright, they clearly have a proven track record of finding defensive gems that others have either overlooked or undervalued.
Still, something just didn't feel right. How is it that someone this athletic, who it was claimed could run a sub 4.40 40-yard dash (official time was a 4.50), could have been overlooked by all of the football gurus and analysts.
Then came the stories, and suddenly, I realized why Bruce Irvin was overlooked by all the draft experts.
First, it was the story of his rough upbringing, what he had to overcome in his life in order to reach this point and the recent (albeit minor) run-ins with the law. Then it was the story of how he was playing in the wrong scheme at West Virginia as a 248-pound defensive tackle. Finally came the sleeper-pick rumors of how multiple teams were secretly coveting Irvin.
Slowly but surely, I began to love the pick. I was officially on the Bruce bandwagon.
However, my initial excitement quickly began to fade during Saturday night's preseason game against the Broncos. Not because Irvin has yet to record a sack, but because everything that I had seen and read about Irvin's motor and explosiveness off the edge were absent. Except for one quarterback hit, and a few sparing flashes, Irvin was a non-factor.
The most troublesome part for me is watching at times what I perceive to be a seemingly lackadaisical effort by Irvin. And just to be clear, this isn't an expert opinion; just a fan's perspective.
Here's what I am seeing on many pass-rushes by Irvin: He gets off the line late, begins his rush only to realize he isn't going to get past the tackle, initiates contact that looks more like a cat fight and then either runs past the blocker, but not within five yards reach of the quarterback, or backs off to make sure no running back or quarterback can sneak out into the flat. He doesn't give up on the play so much as he gives up on his attack.
The differences between Irvin's initial jump off the line to that of his more experienced teammate, Chris Clemons, can't be overlooked. On multiple occasions, Irvin appeared to be a full two yards behind Clemons in his attack. This late jump off the line has been habitual for Irvin throughout the preseason.
One of the few exceptions I did see over the course of Irvin's first two preseason games was the hit of Peyton Manning (at the 1:40 mark of this video) in which Irvin used a nasty club move to knock starting right tackle Orlando Franklin to the ground. This is what I had been expecting. This is why I jumped on the Bruce bandwagon.
I know it's still way too early to draw any real conclusions from this, but the inconsistency and lack of production against lessor talent worries me. Irvin has been getting shut down by starting offensive linemen, but he's also getting shut down by guys just looking to make a roster. Is Irvin being held back, or is he just not getting acclimated to NFL play as quickly as one would like?
In a perfect world, this would all be some elaborate scheme in which Carroll and company are trying to pull the wool over our opponents' eyes and will be unleashing Beast Mode 2.0 when things actually count.
In reality, however, unless Irvin can turn things up a notch, Irvin has the look of a first-round project rather than a hidden gem.