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Bruce Irvin has the edge with Seahawks

Seahawks outside linebacker Bruce Irvin can do it all, including running with the ball after an interception. (Associated Press)
Seahawks outside linebacker Bruce Irvin can do it all, including running with the ball after an interception. (Associated Press)
Bob Condotta Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – It’s an assertion Seattle linebacker coach Ken Norton knows would draw a few cries of “What about me?” from other corners of the Seahawks locker room.

“They can protest it, but it doesn’t matter to me,” counters Norton. “It’s not even close.”

The statement in question? That linebacker Bruce Irvin is the best athlete on Seattle’s defense.

“If we were picking a team for a game on Turkey Day Thanksgiving against the neighborhood, the first pick would be Bruce,” Norton said. “He throws, he catches, he runs, he covers, he does the whole thing.

“He can probably throw a ball 80 yards. He can stand right here and do a back flip. He can stand on his head and do a handstand for 40 minutes. He’s an amazing athlete.”

It was that athleticism that compelled the Seahawks to take something of a leap and draft Irvin with the 15th overall pick in the first round in 2012.

And it’s all that athleticism that is on display now to its greatest effect with Irvin healthy and feeling more comfortable than ever at strongside linebacker.

Irvin, drafted initially as a pass-rushing end, was moved to linebacker last season, but admits that the position felt more like a rental in 2013. Now, he says, it feels like a home.

“At heart I feel like I’m a D-lineman,” Irvin said. “But I play linebacker now so I get more used to it and used to it as the season goes on.”

Irvin certainly looked the part Monday night against Washington, performing so well that coaches scrapped an initial plan to have him rotate with Malcolm Smith.

Smith, the Super Bowl MVP last February, started the first three games with Irvin easing his way back after having offseason hip surgery and then missing the Denver game with an oblique injury.

“We were ready to rotate it,” coach Pete Carroll said. “But he (Irvin) was doing so well.”

The stat sheet, which shows Irvin with three tackles, doesn’t accurately indicate his impact on the 27-17 win over Washington.

As the strongside linebacker, one of Irvin’s primary responsibilities is to set the edge, which means he has to fend off blocks from the tight end and force any running play back inside. That was particularly critical against Washington’s Alfred Morris, who thrives on cutback runs.

Morris, who rarely could get to the outside, was held to 29 yards on 13 carries with Washington managing just 32 yards on 17 rushes .

“His strength and his toughness really showed up,” Norton said.

Where Irvin initially wondered how the move to linebacker would take, he now sees it as the position he was meant to play.“It’s a better fit,” said the 6-foot-3, 248-pounder. “Less banging. If I stayed at D-end I would have been an undersized D-end always. At linebacker, I’m a big linebacker. So I’d rather be a big backer than an undersized defensive end.”

What he no longer feels like, though, is an understudy. Along with recovering from the surgery to correct a hip injury, Irvin also spent the spring and summer camped in the film room, coming to an even greater understanding of the nuances of the position.

“Oh, no doubt,” gushes Norton. “I think it’s very apparent, his growth. The time he has had off has really been good for him. He’s been able to heal and watch and really learn.”

Notes

C Max Unger (foot) again sat out on Thursday, increasing the odds that Stephen Schilling could be called on to start Sunday against Dallas. … Irvin said he was fined $5,512 by the NFL for wearing white high tops against Washington. Seattle’s team shoe color for the game was black.

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