RENTON, Wash. – Bruce Irvin doesn’t hide his conflicting emotions.
Irvin is expected to play significantly for the first time this preseason against Oakland on Thursday after missing most of the offseason with a groin injury. But it’s also the last time he will play until Week 5 because of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
“I’m excited, but at the same time it’s hard because I’m going to be gone from these guys for four weeks,” Irvin said. “I’m just going to go out there and bust my tail and make them miss me when I’m gone.”
He will do so at a new position, one he has apparently taken to but at which he has yet to play much.
The Seahawks used Irvin as a pass-rush specialist as a rookie last year. He played primarily in nickel situations on third down and had only one objective: Get to the quarterback.
He had eight sacks and showed the combination of size and speed that led Seattle to draft him in the first round.
But the Seahawks looked at their roster this offseason and realized they needed to find a way to keep him on the field. Irvin played the same position as veteran Chris Clemons and Seattle also signed free-agent Cliff Avril, another veteran defensive end.
In April, general manager John Schneider was asked if Irvin could play outside linebacker, but he didn’t say the conversion was going to be made.
“Athletically, absolutely,” Schneider said, “but as a pass-rusher he needs to improve his game as well.”
Linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., though, approached Irvin early in the offseason about making the switch to linebacker.
“I thought he was joking,” Irvin said. “When we broke up into position meetings, they told me to go to linebacker.
“It is what it is. I think I’m going to be pretty successful at it, if you ask me.”
Irvin shrugs off the difficulty of the transition, calling it “easy.” He played some safety early in his college career, he said, and hasn’t had much problem dropping in coverage or playing in space.
“For others, it may be an interesting dilemma and problem,” Norton said. “But for him, he’s so natural. He has all the tools.”
As a strongside linebacker, Irvin will line up over the tight end and be responsible for covering him. He will also need to drop in zone coverage and cover running backs out of the backfield. The idea is to get Irvin on the field more on first and second down.