Bruce Irvin (51) battles veteran tackle Alex Barron during the Seahawks' recent minicamp. (Getty)
RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks raised eyebrows with two of their draft picks in 2012, but it appears that both players -- first-round defensive end Bruce Irvin of West Virginia and third-round quarterback Russell Wilson of Wisconsin -- could be raising eyebrows in a far more positive sense sooner than expected.
While Irvin (the 15th overall pick) impressed through the Seahawks' 2012 rookie minicamp, the real news came via Wilson, who showed impressive command of an NFL offense in his first opportunity to do so. Despite standing 5-foot-10 5/8 -- a fact that had a lot of draft experts rating him as a fourth-round prospect -- Wilson displayed many of the positive aspects required for his position. He was consistently nifty in the pocket, rolled out to throw very well, threw his receivers open downfield over and over, and sold play-action like a pro. Head coach Pete Carroll was beyond impressed -- with Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson and Josh Portis already on the roster, Carroll insisted that Wilson had already done enough to be in the running for the starting quarterback competition. If Wilson won the job before the season started, he would be just the second third-round quarterback in NFL history to claim that prize -- Buffalo's Joe Ferguson did the same in 1973.
"Here's what I'm going to say about it: He's going to be in the competition. He showed us enough. That is going to tax us, as we know. But he's showed us enough that we need to see where he fits in with these guys. It won't be because he doesn't understand or that he can't learn it or any of that. And it isn't going to be because he can't throw a football — because he can. He's got a terrific arm. So we'll just have to see how he fits as the time goes on."
Carroll had a three-way race for starter at USC once; a competition Matt Barkley eventually won. That made him open-minded enough to consider Wilson for that same position ... despite the obvious and oft-mentioned height disadvantage.
"It's been an issue all along for him since he was a little kid," Carroll said of Wilson's height on April 27; the day he was selected. "He's always been the smaller guy playing since he was a freshman at NC State and he was the first guy in the history of the ACC to be an all-league quarterback as a freshman. He started right from the beginning of setting records and doing things that people can't imagine. We know that he's found his way. Interesting statistics about the guy — his number of knockdowns last year I think was four for the season. Everybody would think it would be on the other end of the spectrum — it wasn't. Then just his game-winning ways and stuff makes him off the charts.
"Frankly, this is something [where] I called Bud Grant, an old friend and mentor, and I talked to him. To me it was really an interesting conversation. We had a long talk about, 'How did Fran [Tarkenton] do it? How could he be so extraordinary?' And it just gave me a sense that it supported what [Seahawks general manager] John [Schneider] had seen and studied over the years and followed this kid along. We just really felt we had a great guy."
Grant didn't have Tarkenton as a rookie -- he didn't coach the Vikings until 1967 and didn't get Tarkenton back from the New York Giants until 1972 -- but he was able to help make a future Hall of Famer out of a player who had been cast aside by conventional wisdom. In the 1960s, Tarkenton's mobility was considered a fatal flaw, and his 6-foot stature didn't fit the NFL suit. Despite those perceived impediments, Tarkenton started 10 of 14 games for the expansion Vikings in 1961, and his first regular-season game -- which he didn't technically start -- saw him complete 17 of 23 passes and throw four touchdown passes in a 37-13 win over the Chicago Bears. Of course, when Tarkenton did start the next game, he went 8 of 24 for 117 yards, no touchdowns and two picks against the Dallas Cowboys.
So, no matter how impressive Wilson may have been over the weekend, it's still a process.
As for Irvin, thought to be a second-round prospect by many because of his size as a pure pass-rushing defensive end (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) and projected inability to be an every-down player, there were few concerns among the coaching staff when they finally got Irvin on the field. One play in particular stood out on Friday -- one doesn't often use the term "closing speed" when describing a defensive end, but Irvin trucked around the left tackle, ran across the formation, and caught up to the athletic Wilson. Had they been participating in contact drills, Wilson may have had his bell rung a bit.
"I just like to run," Irvin said when I asked him about that play. "If the play is 20 or 30 yards downfield, I just love to run so much that I'm going to chase it down. I might not have a chance to get him, but I just love to run. That's what I do. I have great closing speed and I look forward to showing that more often."
Defensive line coach Todd Wash is responsible for varying the techniques by which Irvin will get to the quarterback at the NFL level -- at West Virginia, Irvin would alternate between beating his man with pure speed, and getting completely blocked to the outside by opponents who outweighed him by 80 pounds. The cross-chop; the inside counter; the spin move -- these will be Bruce Irvin's new best friends.
"We knew he was a speed rusher, and some said that he was a one-trick pony." Wash said on Saturday. "He has more than one move. He has a good speed rush off the edge, and he does also have an up-and-under. We've been working on some other moves, and today he put it together. Today was the first time I'd seen him with a power move, and it was fantastic. He knows it, that he's got to get something other than just the two things he has. We're not going to overwhelm with, 'Hey -- try to do this, try to do that,' so he becomes an average NFL player. We're going to see what he's good at, give him a counter move off of that, give him one more initial thing at the set point, and let him go -- just let him play fast."
As it was with Wilson, Carroll saw a player who will be ready for prime time sooner than some may have expected. "He's just right. He's just what we thought he was. He's very, very fast. He's very instinctive. I think now that we've had him in the meeting rooms and watched him learn and pick stuff up and ask good questions and then be able to apply the stuff on the field, he's going to be able to come in and help us immediately. That's all you could probably hope for in your No. 1 [draft pick]. How far he can take it, I don't know. But he's definitely going to be a guy that we're going to find ways to use him and it's really going to fit in the pattern that we had thought."
When Carroll and Schneider took over the Seahawks in 2010, they were facing serious roster deficits at nearly every position. In Year 3 of the Big Plan, they can now look at different types of players -- "luxury picks," as some call them -- to fill out the ranks. A specific speed rusher here, a backup quarterback who flashed starting potential there -- add in this linebacker and that rotational power running back, and you have what looks like a full lineup ready to compete at a playoff level.
If Wilson and Irvin live up to their potential sooner than later, that process could accelerate to a different degree.
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