RENTON — If there is an established Seahawks player who epitomizes the kid on the outside looking in, it is LB Bruce Irvin. Wherever he is, he isn’t quite good enough. Tuesday at Seahawks practice, he found himself asked by the club to lead a tour of the practice facility for a team from Portland’s inner-city Roosevelt High School. He wasn’t sure why.
“I think they’re from the ‘hood, so that’s how we can relate,” he said. “I think they’re ghetto, and I used to be ghetto, so that’s a bond.
“I asked them, ‘From all these superstars, why do you want to see me?'”
He didn’t say if the kids answered, but I would suggest one endearing virtue might be his penchant for honesty. Or as he put it, “I’ve always said I’m a blunt person — Bruce is gonna do what Bruce is gonna do.”
What kid wouldn’t like to hear from someone like that?
Others, however, do not find Irvin’s bluntness so endearing. Which is why Irvin found his phone lit up May 13 with a 425 area code and a name: Pete.
“Soon as it came out, (coach Pete Carroll) came straight to the source, as a man should do,” Irvin said. “He called me. We nipped it in the bud. He understood that it was blown out of proportion.”
What “it” was were remarks Irvin made after the Seahawks said they were declining their fifth-year option in 2016 on Irvin’s contract, which was worth $7.8 million. The decision surprised no one around the Seahawks who understood the difficulty the team has with managing payroll under the NFL salary cap after huge success.
Which didn’t mean that Irvin wasn’t mortally pissed. So Bruce did what Bruce is gonna do: He vented to a reporter in his hometown of Atlanta, where he was attending a Hawks NBA playoff game.
“I’m going to be in Atlanta next season,” Irvin said. “I’m ready.”
He also raged on Twitter about what he felt was a snub: “Faced way tougher adversity getting outta them streets coming up! That’s s— is nothing! F— THAT OPTION!”
First, Irvin is under contract for 2015 at $1.6 million, so he can’t market his services. Second, the Falcons rushed out a statement saying they were not tampering with another team’s player. Third (and I paraphrase Pete Carroll here):
“Shut the hell up, Bruce!”
Here’s how Irvin explained it:
“They was killing me on social media. Pete just kinda told me to stay away from it. Don’t give interviews or answer anything. I told him a reporter kinda asked me a question and he took it the wrong way and ran with it.
“Pete knew where my heart was and understood it. I’m still on social media, but I gotta switch it up a little bit.”
While the contracts of several other teammates were being extended before their deals’ expiration, Irvin would be stuck having to play out his final year and, pending a failure to get a new Seahawks deal, enter free agency.
So rather than do his heavy lifting on social media, Irvin responded to the tempest in a more appropriate space: The weight room.
He’s up 18 pounds of muscle and blowing past Seahawks offensive tackles in training camp with renewed vigor. He wasn’t too bad before: His 16.5 sacks over his first three seasons ranks third in Seahawks history behind Jeff Bryant with 25.5 from 1982-84 and Cortez Kennedy in 1990-92 with 21.5.
Irvin was asked why he thought he needed to bulk up.
“I got tired of being 240, bro,” he said. “I felt like a little guy out there. So I got big and strong. I’m moving pretty well with it. I wanted to look the part. I think I did a great job.
“I learned how to become a pass rusher.”
Isn’t it also true that you’re still irked with the Seahawks’ decision?
“It got something to do with it,” he said. “I’m just trying to have the best season I can have. Hopefully I can be here another three or four years, and everything will work out.”
Carroll was asked if an absence of size and power last season was limiting Irvin on his pass rush.
“It didn’t seem to be an issue until we see him now at the other end of it,” he said. “The added strength makes a difference. He’s able to disengage and get off blocks better than he has. He’s always been a speed guy. He’s playing with more power now. That’s a really important add because he’s still really fast.
“He’s looked the best he’s looked; it’s the best camp he’s had. We’re really happy about it. We always want the strongest, fastest. That’s kinda where he is now.”
Think about Carroll’s evaluation for a minute. Irvin played 709 snaps last season, eighth among Seahawks defenders. What if his improved physicality graduates him to more full-time status as a QB pressure guy opposite Michael Bennett? How does an offensive coordinator stack his QB’s protection? And last season, Pro Football Focus rated Irvin higher as a run stopper over a pass rusher (+12.3 to -1.2).
If 2015 goes according to plan, Irvin, for perhaps the first time in his checkered life, will no longer be on the outside looking in. He could become the most valued free agent linebacker in the 2016 class.
He could do what he said in May said he was gonna do: “Atlanta is where I want to be. Believe that.”
Bruce Irvin will do what he was gonna do: Be a superstar, no longer on the outside looking in.