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'I know I am more than just a third-down player'

MCT REGIONAL NEWS

By Drew Rubenstein

The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

(MCT)

April 03--Bruce Irvin readily admits it.

He was one of the most excited players when news broke that Dana Holgorsen had been hired as the WVU football team's new offensive coordinator, in late December.

"Seeing the numbers that Holgorsen and those guys put up yearin and year-out, you have no choice but to get excited. If the offense puts up numbers, man, and we make teams play catch-up, then that's more passing situations for us," Irvin said as a wide grin stretched across his face.

If there's one thing the senior defensive lineman likes, it's being on the field against an offense facing third and long.

"We love getting after the quarterback on passing downs, so we're just excited for the offensive players and the new scheme they're running," Irvin said. (Holgorsen's last four offenses -- at Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Houston -- have ranked in the top three nationally, averaging well over 500 yards per game.) "And we'll see how it goes."

But the 6-foot-3, 238-pound Mount San Antonio (Walnut, Calif.) Community College transfer wants to prove he's not just a pass-rushing specialist.

Irvin, who arrived in Morgantown last summer, just before fall camp, was primarily a third-down player for the Mountaineers. He became a fleet-footed terror for offenses, finishing the season with 14 sacks (second in the country and third in WVU history) and two forced fumbles. But Irvin saw limited action on first and second downs, and usually trotted on the field when opponents were forced to throw.

WVU coaches said they stuck to that game plan because Irvin had such little time to learn and practice the playbook before the season started.

Now, they want his role to expand.

"I have been getting extra work, and I work out two or three times a day because I know it's going to take harder work to become an everydown player (versus) just coming in on third down and being fresh," said Irvin, who did a pull-up on a piece of weight room equipment before starting his interview. "I am confident in myself and I know I can play the run and the pass. Like I said last year, I know I am more than just a third-down player."

Can Irvin be a run-stopper too?

This year, Irvin has time on his side. He will go through an entire offseason with the Mountaineers -- winter conditioning, spring drills, summer workouts and fall camp -- before the Sept. 3 season opener, against Marshall.

"We have Bruce Irvin back, who was everyone's hero. He was my hero, too," WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said, referring to how Mountaineers fans serenaded Irvin with chants of "Bruuuce" each time he made a play. "He was probably the reason why we were second in the country in third-down defense. Our challenge there is to try to develop him into a kid who can play more snaps for us and not just be a thirddown specialist."

In spring drills, WVU has moved Julian Miller (nine sacks each of the last two seasons) from defensive end to tackle, to allow Irvin to try his hand at end on every snap. He's given the offensive linemen fits in passing downs -- Irvin dodging blockers and tapping a quarterback on the back has become a common sight -- but Casteel knows that ability will be useless if WVU gets out-muscled in the trenches.

Not only did the Mountaineers have the secondbest third-down defense last season, but also opponents averaged just 2.7 yards per carry against WVU -- also second-best in the nation. Teams couldn't run, so they were forced to pass.

WVU is now looking to fill the voids left by departed seniors Scooter Berry and Chris Neild with smaller, yet quicker linemen.

"To get in those (thirdand-long) situations, you have to be good on first down and second down," Casteel said. "But if you turn around and (it's) second-and-3, the chances of getting Bruce Irvin or Julian Miller in on third down in a pass-rush mode is not very good. We have to be efficient through first, second and third downs to be good. That will be our challenge, to get these guys to get that."

Irvin, who has turned into one of WVU's most vocal practice players ("I just like screaming to get my side hyped. I just get excited to play. I love to play football, man."), doesn't seem too concerned by the challenge.

"I believe you can't really block speed," said Irvin, who doesn't want to get his weight past 240 in fear of losing his quickness. "If you're fast and get off the ball quick, then there's not much a 300-pound person can do. It's about getting off the ball, staying low, and it's a leverage game. It's a leverage game."

'He'll change the way you'll approach a game'

The long dreadlocks remain. "I feel like this is me. It's my look, it's my strength," Irvin has said. "They get pulled out a lot at games and practices, but this is me. This is Bruce."

Teammates and coaches agree that if WVU is to successfully replace seven starters from the nation's third-best overall defense, Irvin must be productive on the field at all times.

"An athlete like that, you need him on the field as much as possible," WVU senior defensive back Keith Tandy said. "With him and Julian on the field together, that can be dangerous. People are starting to forget about Julian, and he's had like 18 sacks over the last two years, too."

After the first day of spring drills, first-year inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson yelled at Irvin, "Hey Bruce, no sacks today!"

To which Irvin responded with a smile, nod of his head and a, "Yeah, right."

Dawson laughed when talking about Irvin's highlight tape from a year ago because it was "pretty impressive."

He likes giving Irvin a hard time because he's the kind of player who disrupts high-powered offenses, so Dawson is happy WVU faces him only in practice.

"He's the kind of guy that when you're game planning, you've got to account for him and know where he is," Dawson said. "He'll change the whole way you'll approach a game for an opponent because 1/8he's so3/8 dynamic. You'd have to know where he is in protection. You can't just let him cause havoc and not have a plan for him."

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To see more of The Dominion Post or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dominionpost.com/.

(c) 2011, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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