By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Is today the day Bruce Irvin eats?
Irvin, Seattle’s first-round pick in April’s draft, the man the Seahawks selected hoping to upgrade their pass rush, garnered a lot of laughs in his introductory press conference when he expressed his affinity for feasting on opposing quarterbacks.
“They’re delicious,” Irvin said at the time. “And they’re healthy for you too.”
But here’s the thing about being a rookie adjusting to the NFL — football at this level is rarely an all-you-can-eat buffet, but instead a constant struggle to earn a few morsels of sustenance. And so far for Irvin, it has been more famine that feast in the very early stages of his NFL career.
The Seahawks surprised a lot of people when they selected Irvin, an undersized but incredibly fast and athletic pass rusher, out of West Virginia with the No. 15 pick. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider made it clear at the time that they viewed Irvin as the best pass rusher in the draft, even if he was less hyped than other players in his draft class.
It would be foolish to bet against Irvin, who already has had to overcome obstacles much bigger than a left tackle to get this far in his life. Even so, he has not had the immediate impact most people were expecting out of a first-round pick.
Irvin was very impressive throughout training camp, but that did not translate to game action until he had a breakout performance in Seattle’s final preseason tune-up. But after looking so good in that game, Irvin was quiet again in his regular-season debut, registering only one quarterback hurry and no sacks or tackles in last weekend’s loss in Arizona.
Irvin isn’t getting impatient by any means — he can see the progress even if it isn’t showing up on the stat sheet — but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t love to have a breakout performance in front of the home crowd today.
“I’ve gotten better each and every week,” he said. “I’m just waiting. My time will come. I’m just waiting, getting better and following the lead of these older guys like Red (Bryant) and (Chris Clemons). My time will come.”
And let’s be very clear about one thing. If Irvin doesn’t have a big game today, if he once again barely shows up on the stat sheet, it is way, way, way (I’m not sure I can put enough ways in here) too early to consider him a bust, or a reach, or a failure, or any other negative thing you could come up with when it comes to making knee-jerk reactions.
Because here’s the thing; getting to the quarterback, it’s pretty hard. There is a reason that elite pass rushers are one of the most valued commodities in the game, right up there with quarterbacks, shutdown cornerbacks and dominant left tackles. As much as players like DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers might make you think otherwise, sacks are very hard to come by in the NFL.
“People don’t understand how hard it is to get a sack in the NFL,” Irvin said. “It’s hard. People just think, these guys go out here and end up with three of four sacks. Like it’s just, if they can do it, anyone can do it. Those guys are vets. This is my first game. I’m sure those days will come when I get multiple sacks, but until them I’m just going to keep working. They’ll come.”
Even if Irvin hasn’t exploded on the scene from Day 1, everyone who has been watching him is confident he will make his presence known soon.
“As a pass rusher, it takes time to find a groove to figure out what you’re really good at, but I think Bruce is ahead of the curve as a pass rusher,” said Clemons, who has led the Seahawks in sacks each of the past two seasons.
And the Seahawks have reason to be optimistic that today could be the day that Irvin breaks out. People love to talk about home-field advantage in all sports, but there might not be a more tangible example of the effect fans can have on a game than the edge they can give to pass rushers. When a stadium like CenturyLink Field is rocking, offensive linemen can be a half-step slow reacting to the snap. For a pass rusher with Irvin’s speed, that half step can be the difference between a sack and an awkward, three-second tango with an offensive tackle. The last time Irvin played at home — and granted, it was a preseason game — he had 1.5 sacks, hit the quarterback three times, and looked to be the pass rusher the Seahawks were looking for when they drafted him in April.
“You saw him the last time out here, he got going pretty good,” Carroll said. “The factor that the 12th Man brings does help the pass rush and our guys outside. Both he and Clem are all about getting off that ball. If we get great get-offs, we’ll see Bruce showing the speed that we brought him here for. We’re really hoping he has his chances and he’ll get some good opportunities and get some good get-offs, and see what that means when we bring the pressure on (Cowboys quarterback Tony) Romo.”
Irvin is just one of several rookies who is filling an important role for the Seahawks right off the bat, and he’s also not the only one who struggled in Week 1. Quarterback Russell Wilson was not the same dynamic playmaker we saw in the preseason — though to be fair that had more to do with his pass protection than his decision making or accuracy — Irvin was a non-factor for the most part, and rookie guard J.R. Sweezy was overwhelmed at times by Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. Now that the first-game jitters are behind them, the Seahawks rookies, Irvin included, hope to have a much bigger impact starting today.
“There’s nothing like the first game,” Carroll said. “All of these guys will talk about and remember their first game and first experience and all of that, and they won’t be like that anymore. I think we can only look for all of those young guys to feel more comfortable and understand what’s going on. For them the home field will feel more important. I think it will be less if an issue, and hopefully that will show up in our play.”
And for Irvin, hopefully that means a tasty, quarterback-flavored meal (insert Tony Romo/Roma’s Ribs joke here).
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.