It recently occurred to me that this column has spent waaaaay too much time looking at offensive prospects over the last few weeks. Silly me--with all the quarterback draft talk surrounding this team (and it's well-deserved talk, of course), I developed a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. Can you really blame me for this oversight, though? To win in today's NFL, a team needs to be capable of scoring points galore literally every time it steps on the field. And while Drew Brees is blasting the Giants' defense to bits on Monday Night Football, and the Patriots are putting up mega-points against any defense--good or bad--in their path, we're going 0-4 in the red zone against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving and churning out a style of football that's only slightly more sophisticated than the prehistoric approach Bill Parcells put into place when he took control of (see: soiled) this team four years ago.
Of course, the loss to the Cowboys was a stern reminder that we need serious help at several positions on defense, too. Outside linebacker Koa Misi can't set the edge or rush the passer at this point, which pretty much makes him worthless in the 3-4 scheme; our safety position is still a complete mess; and we still don't have a pure cover corner on the roster (though Sean Smith and Vontae Davis did some good things against the Cowboys).
Looks like a lot of work needs to be done this offseason, eh? It's hard to say where the Dolphins should start upgrading; however, if I am running the Dolphins' front office and trying to find a sort of "quick fix" on defense, I'd use my second-round pick next April on either a safety or outside linebacker. Let's suppose the Dolphins go with the latter option.Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB West Virginia
A pass rusher worthy of the "D" word
I often feel like the word "devastating" is way overused when it comes to describing pass rushers in the NFL. A guy might be quick, capable ... maybe even lethal, but "devastating" should only be reserved for those who can truly dominate the game from their respective position--the kind of defender fast enough to zip around offensive linemen and powerful enough to bowl them over; technically sound, hungry and willing to do whatever it takes to get his hands on the quarterback.
Bruce Irvin is that kind of player.
Irvin (6'3", 240) is a highly skilled "pass-rush specialist" who has collected a whopping 22 sacks for the Mountaineers in just under two years. Tall, fast, rangy and strong, Irvin has plenty of weapons at his disposal when rushing the quarterback. He flashes a consistent ability to beat his man around the edge, and frequently mixes up his attack by countering with a strong inside move. Irvin has very active hands at the line of scrimmage and can effectively fight off blocks in tight "phone booth" situations. His rip move is particularly impressive, as is his ability to bull rush and run over his man on the way to the quarterback. Irvin possesses long arms and can bring the quarterback down even when linemen successfully stay in front of him or deny him entrance into the backside of the pocket. And once this guy gets his hands on you, you're going down. Irvin's also collected a few "multi-task" sacks, where he'll engage the linemen with one arm and grip the quarterback with the other arm.
For a player who has essentially been a third-down specialist for the Mountaineers, Irvin plays the run surprisingly well, using his long arms and quickness to defeat initial blocks and pursue, respectively. Irvin has good speed in the open field, too, and has demonstrated the ability to run down ballcarriers. He can also set the edge when asked to do so, though I'd like to see him expand on this skill.
I want to emphasize that Irvin is much more than a "freak" athlete. The savvy and skill he consistently demonstrates at the line of scrimmage is impressive. If anything, Irvin is a sack technician in the making.
A leader-type presence on the field
Before he arrived in Morgantown, Irvin bounced around several junior colleges and was primarily a special teams contributor until coaches realized he could dominate if lined up on the line of scrimmage. While playing in junior college, Irvin, a former high school dropout and young man with some character issues, really matured and began to embrace his responsibilities as a student and teammate. Irvin hasn't looked back since then and has become an absolute fan favorite at West Virginia. He also has a good temperament on the field and has become a leader for the Mountaineers defense.
Transitioning to outside linebacker at the next level
Although Irvin has shown the ability to play the run effectively, it remains to be seen if he can hold up consistently in coverage. He certainly has the speed to be an effective coverage linebacker, but his awareness in passing situations remains to be seen. And as we've learned from guys like Misi and Cameron Wake, it's all about awareness and technique when you're playing the pass. Still, Irvin has all the physical tools to become an outstanding outside linebacker in the NFL. If he's willing to continue to work and grow as a player, he shouldn't have any problem rounding out his game.
Bruce Irvin is currently a second-round talent, and if the Dolphins feel the value is right, they should think about complementing Cameron Wake's presence with a pass rusher of Irvin's caliber.