When the Oakland Raiders announced that linebacker Bruce Irvin would make the full-time transition to defensive end, RaiderNation rejoiced. However, with the draft looming and so much in the air undecided, celebrations need to pause. While Irvin gets upfield in a hurry, careful considerations exist whether this move could pay off in the end.
Upon the release of the position shift, Irvin tweeted this. From there, you can easily see an excited player, looking forward to wreaking havoc in the backfield. Although you cannot quantify excitement, Irvin exuberance means a locked-in starting end duo. With Khalil Mack occupying the other side, Irvin could see single blocking. If he does, 2018 could mark the first double-digit sack total of his career.
Entering the season, Irvin already rushes frequently anyway. According to Austin Gayle at PFF, Irvin dropped back into coverage 17 percent of the time before John Pagano took the reins. After the coordinator move, the number fell to 6.7. As a result, Irvin amasses 3.5 of his eight total sacks in the final five games.
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of this move is defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. If Trgovac agrees with this move, then that carries weight within that defense. For an experinced coach, posistion shifts to his group aren’t taken lightly. Under those circumstances, Irvin impressed him.
While Irvin appears beyond thrilled, how will he vary his rush set? That is to say, although gifted, does Irvin possess that go-to rush move. Granted, asking for a speed-to-power conversion like Von Miller or spin move like Dwight Freeney is too much. Yet, how will Irvin change up his attack during a game. With snaps, comes film. Film shows tendencies. If an offensive tackles expects to see a certain technique, they are ready for it. In that case, the Raiders need Irvin to keep opponents guessing
Although not Irvin’s fault, do the Raiders have a consistent 3-technique defensive tackle to disrupt the interior? In the Paul Guenther/Mike Zimmer defense, a quick, gap-shooting defensive tackle makes the defensive line click. With the Bengals, Guenther enjoyed the luxury of Geno Atkins. Ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap feasted off quarterbacks rolling into them due to Atkins beating a guard. Mack and Irvin need a teammate to step forward and provide the same pressure as Atkins does in Cincinnati.
In addition to the move, Irvin’s position change leaves his linebacker spot open. After signing Tahir Whitehead to a deal, the Raiders have one veteran linebacker under contract. At this writing, NaVorro Bowman remains a free agent. If Bowman returns, does Nicholas Morrow continue to start? When shifting players, the goal is to ensure a smooth transition all the way around.
In reality, Bruce Irvin’s move to defensive end signals a change in recent Raiders philosophy. Under Norton and Del Rio, the defense appeared to stick with failed schemes, and concepts that attributed to poor performance. However, with Guenther and Gruden, the Raiders look to place talent where they can be most effective. Moreover, instead of a dour Irvin that sulked after Norton’s firing, you have an invigorated, hungry player, looking to eat.