By Danny O’Neil
Room to grow.
Seattle has plenty of it, which seems odd to say considering the Seahawks are coming off a Super Bowl victory.
But that’s the situation Seattle finds itself in after an offseason that began with the payroll pruning of veterans like Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, and continued with the free-agent departures of starters like Golden Tate, Breno Giacomini and even Brandon Browner.
Add in the fact the Seahawks have yet to sign another team’s unrestricted free agent this year, and Seattle has plenty of opportunities for growth from within. This week, we’ll count down the five returning Seahawks who have the most to gain this year whether that’s in terms of playing time or negotiating position for a new contract.
We start with a guy Seattle drafted to be a pass rusher, and found himself downsized to linebacker a year ago.
Bruce Irvin had two sacks in limited pass-rush opportunities last season. (AP)
LB Bruce Irvin
Experience: Entering third season
Pedigree: He was the single most surprising first-round pick in the 2012 draft, chosen No. 15 overall by a Seattle team that believed he was the best pass rusher available. Sure enough, he went out and led all NFL rookies with sacks in 2012 with 8. A knee injury to Chris Clemons forced Irvin into a starting role for the divisional playoff game against Atlanta, and the Falcons ran right at – and often over – Irvin.
Of all the players on the roster last year, Irvin is the one who took the biggest step back. First, there was a position switch as he moved from end to linebacker following the free-agent additions of first Cliff Avril and then Michael Bennett. Then came a suspension, Irvin forced to miss the first four weeks after testing positive for a substance banned under the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Drafted as a pass rusher, Irvin had two sacks all of last season, and while he started every game, he was only on the field for 25 percent of Seattle’s defensive plays in the Super Bowl.
Predicament: Where does Irvin fit into Seattle’s defense? Irvin is going to stay at linebacker, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was pretty clear about that back in February. But he’s going to be pushed for playing time considering Malcolm Smith was only the Super Bowl MVP last season.
The possibilities: It’s not quite a make-or-break season for Irvin, but it’s getting close. Seattle has moved in a different direction at defensive end, first by signing Avril and now likely promoting him to the starter with Clemons gone.
That’s troubling because pass rush is the one trait Irvin was drafted to play, and it’s a role he moved away from in 2013 to the point he wasn’t even part of the team’s nickel pass-rush package like he was as a rookie.
Danny O’Neil’s look at the other Seahawks with the most to gain:
|• CB Byron Maxwell||• RB Christine Michael||• WR Jermaine Kearse||• DE Greg Scruggs|
But before anyone writes him off, remember that he is the single most athletic player in Seattle’s front seven as he demonstrated with that remarkable over-the-shoulder interception in Week 8 at St. Louis last season.
He’s got a full offseason and training camp to carve himself a role, and his defensive coordinator sounded very excited about the possibility Irvin will do just that at linebacker.
“He’s got all the stuff that we look for in our outside ‘backer with speed and length and he can set the edge, he can rush,” Quinn said in February.
As for Irvin’s 2013 season?
“I thought for his first time playing linebacker he did a terrific job,” Quinn said. “You know that it’s only going to get better from here. So we feel like he’s in the right spot and we couldn’t be more excited to see how far we can take him.”