Bruce Irvin made a major life choice by signing with the Raiders this offseason. The versatile linebacker/edge rusher left a juggernaut in Seattle for a young team on the rise, one that hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade plus.
Irvin felt confident putting pen to paper in March, trusting friend, former position coach and current Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. would put him in position to succeed.
That was nearly five months ago now, and experience has validated faith that Irvin’s in the right spot.
“Ken Norton, Jr. was here, that played a big factor in me deciding to come here, and we run pretty much the same scheme,” Irvin said on Sunday. “They’re going to use me more going forward. They’re going to use my skill set more than Seattle did.”
Irvin was drafted as a pure pass rusher, but his role evolved as years passed and the Seahawks added premier defensive linemen. He had eight sacks as a rookie and 13 in three years since, a span spent playing a diverse linebacker role that required significant pass coverage. He dropped back nearly 19 percent of the time in 2014 and ’15, and 32 percent of his 2013 work was spent in coverage.
Those numbers will shift significantly this year, when Irvin will primarily attack off the edge opposite game-changer Khalil Mack. That’s something Irvin was looking for his new locale, and he found an excellent scheme fit with Norton in Oakland. The Raiders will also use him as resource, mining knowledge from his successful playoff runs in Seattle
He sees similarities between these Raiders and the Seahawks team that selected him in 2012. That group was fresh off a 7-9 season in 2011 – the Raiders had an identical mark last year – looking to fare better. Then they found a quarterback, supplemented well in free agency and saw positive returns from homegrown players and rattled off four straight seasons of 10-plus wins.
“It’s pretty much the same here,” Irvin said. “You look at Seattle, we weren’t always the Seattle team that you see right now. We started as a bunch of young guys, like we are right here. I think as long as we continue to work hard, everybody believe in one thing and that’s playing for each other, then I think we’re going to turn this thing around and be a pretty good team this year.”
Irvin’s a little older and wiser for his Seattle experience, ready to help another team take positive steps.
“I think everybody gets better, more mature,” Norton said. “He really loves being here, he really understands and loves the way we’re going to use him. And, he’s always been passionate about football. Any good football player, no matter where you put him, is going to be good wherever he goes. So, he’s another good football player we brought in to be really good here. We’re expecting a lot of him.”
He welcomes high individual expectations. He also welcomes the attention Mack receives across the formation. The All-Pro had 15 sacks last season and is considered an elite talent, which could allow Irvin to feast on favorable matchups.
“I hope all the attention goes to him. (He had 15) sacks, I hope they put three or four people on him and just let me run free,” Irvin said with a smile. “Khalil is a great guy. The biggest thing about him is, when a guy has had as much success as he’s had in the first two years of his career, some guys seem to not take advice or seem to not work hard, but he comes to work every day. He takes advice from me. I take advice from him.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it, I really think this was meant to be, to be teamed up with him. We’re going to continue to push each other each and every day, and we’re going to really make it happen this year.”