How Seahawks’ Bruce Irvin changed from timid to tremendous this season
In his third NFL season, Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin is excelling at two key roles in Seattle’s defense and putting his checkered past behind him.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Bruce Irvin file
Highlights: Recorded his first multi-sack game against Carolina in 2012, also forcing a fumble. He had another two sacks against Cam Newton in October. He also has returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season — against Oakland and St. Louis.
Did you know? He dropped out of high school, never playing football after his sophomore season, got his GED, went to junior college and then earned a scholarship to West Virginia ... He played safety and on special teams in junior college.
RENTON — Even in his moments of greatest triumph, Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin flashes back to his days of greatest despair.
The days in 2007-08, when he roamed homeless on the streets of Atlanta, a high-school dropout who served three weeks in juvenile detention after being charged with suspicion of burglary (a charge later dropped).
“Sometimes I’ll be in a game and during a timeout I’ll look at the crowd and be like, ‘Dang, a lot of people said I wasn’t going to be here,’ ’’ Irvin said Wednesday. “Sometimes I doubted myself, thinking if I would ever be more than what I was.
“So, yeah, man, it’s a blessing. I thank God every day when I go out there to practice because Lord knows I was supposed to be in jail or dead somewhere.’’
Those thoughts are Irvin’s reality check, reminders of what might have been had he not gotten, and stayed, on the path that led to where he is now. The path that led to getting his GED, and after a stint at a junior college, a scholarship to West Virginia and eventually Seattle and a Super Bowl ring.
After he picked off a pass and returned it 49 yards in the fourth quarter to clinch Seattle’s 20-6 win over the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 28, Irvin soaked in the screaming CenturyLink Field crowd.
“Dang,” he said to himself, “I never thought I would be pick-sixing an interception in the league.’’
But as the 2014 NFL regular season closed, Irvin stood as not only a tale of personal redemption but also another Seahawks gamble that appears to be paying off.
Irvin was a surprise choice by general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll as the 15th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Some regarded him as a one-trick pony able to rush the passer, but at 6 feet 3, 245 pounds, not big enough to play defensive end or versatile enough to be a linebacker.
Reminded that one analyst gave Seattle a failing grade for the 2012 draft, Irvin joked, “They probably got the F because of me.’’
His first two seasons didn’t necessarily convince the skeptics. He had eight sacks as a rookie in 2012 but struggled against the run, and the next offseason the Seahawks decided to try him at strongside linebacker. That experiment got off to a halting start when he was suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s policy for using performance-enhancing drugs.
He started the final 12 games, but admits he spent most of the year adjusting to a new role of playing linebacker in running downs and moving to a rush-end spot in passing downs.
“Last year I was very timid because I didn’t know where I was supposed to be,’’ he said.
Then came offseason surgery to repair a nagging hip injury, and then a rib injury. Each slowed his progress early this season.
But, suddenly, Irvin found it all coming together. And he can pinpoint the moment when that happened — the first game this year against Carolina, the team the Seahawks will host in the NFC divisional playoffs Saturday. In the final minute, Irvin made two sacks of Cam Newton to secure a 13-9 win.
“I think that might have been a turning point for me,’’ he said.
The next week, he picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown to spark a win against the Oakland Raiders.
One week he made game-saving plays at rush end, and the next a game-changing play at strongside linebacker. That’s exactly what Seattle coaches envisioned in creating a hybrid role for Irvin.
Irvin puts it a different way. “Doing the complete opposite of what the people who thought I was a one-dimensional pass rusher thought I could do,” he said. “ I think I’m becoming a complete player, if you ask me.’’
Seattle’s coaches seem to agree. As the Seahawks finished the season on a historic defensive run, allowing 39 points over the last six games, Irvin was rarely off the field.
“He’s really defining the role for us of playing (the strongside) linebacker spot and then crossing over to the nickel-rush guy,’’ Carroll said. “… It took us a little while. We tried to make it easy for him at first and left him at (rush end). As we grew with him, we expanded with him. He’s helped us tremendously.’’
Irvin, 27, has found his role happily expanding off the field, as well. He was married last spring to Alyssa Hackworth, a former college tennis player. The couple has a 19-month-old son, Brayden, who Irvin jokes is harder to corral than NFL quarterbacks.
“But that’s another thing that really changed my life,’’ Irvin said. “Put a lot of stuff in place and made me realize what was important and what was not.’’
Irvin is in the third year of his four-year rookie contract that included $9.2 million guaranteed. The team can decide after the season to exercise an option for the 2016 season.
Irvin says he’ll let that take care of itself.
“I’ve just got to do my best, and I will,’’ he said. “Just keep my nose clean and continue to show that John and Pete were right to take me.’’