RENTON, Wash. – Bruce Irvin has always fed off the doubt of others, whether it came as he tried to turn his life around as a youth or when he was panned as being a reach when the Seattle Seahawks drafted him in the first round last April.
“I love reading all the negative stuff. … That’s just the type of person I am,” Irvin said Wednesday. “I love to see what people say about me because it’s funny. I take that in mind and I bust my butt and it just makes me work harder.”
The latest doubt Irvin will try and erase comes Sunday when the Seahawks face the Falcons in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
Irvin will make the first start of his career after starting defensive end Chris Clemons was lost for the season to a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee in Sunday’s playoff win over Washington.
For most of his rookie season, Irvin has thrived being used on passing downs as a rush end opposite Clemons. Getting pressure from both sides on quarterbacks has worked well for Seattle with Clemons getting 111/2 sacks and Irvin having another eight in the regular season to set a franchise rookie record.
Now that Clemons is out, Irvin will be called on not only to pressure the quarterback, but also be stout in the run game.
“I’m still depressed that (Clemons) is down. He’s like an older brother to me. He showed me a lot, man,” Irvin said. “Next year, I’ll be in this same role, me and (Clemons) rotating and whatever. I’m not looking to come in here and ball out and take over (Clemons’) spot. I’m not looking for that. My time will come and when it’s that time it will all handle itself.”
Going to Atlanta is a homecoming for Irvin, who had a troubled childhood that included a couple of weeks in jail as a teenager. But he’s pleased that his first start will come in front of family who won’t need to get on a plane to see him play.
“It’s going to be bittersweet,” Irvin said. “(I’m) happy that my family doesn’t have to take a five-hour plane ride to come and see me play and just to be back around in that territory and the people that first were to doubt me.”
Irvin got his share of snaps last week versus Washington after Clemons went down early in the third quarter. His biggest play came in the fourth quarter after Seattle had taken a 21-14 lead, when Irvin stayed with the play and chased down Robert Griffin III for a 12-yard sack.
Griffin fumbled a low snap and crumpled to the ground in pain on the next play, where Seattle recovered the fumble and led to a field goal that gave Seattle a 10-point lead.
Irvin said being in on every play helped him get into the flow of the game more.
“I think it’s a plus, I think that’s what really helped me last week,” he said. “I got into a zone and got the feeling of what my man’s strengths and weaknesses were. So I think that really is a plus and we’ll see how it goes.”
Irvin will be helped this week by the Falcons’ propensity to throw. Seven times this season Atlanta threw the ball at least 40 times. The Falcons ran the ball more than 25 times just once over the final eight weeks of the season.
That would seem to play to Irvin’s strengths. But getting a consistent pass rush has been a problem for Seattle, now amplified by the loss of Clemons. Irvin had the only sack of Griffin last week after the Seahawks had just one sack the final two weeks of the regular season.
“I think he’s got more sacks in him,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “I think it’s been a terrific year, I think he can be a double-digit sack guy once he gets it going.”