Don’t be surprised if Bruce Irvin’s sack totals get a nice boost.
The Raiders’ newest linebacker had 22 sacks during his four years with the Seattle Seahawks, but Oakland plans to send him after the quarterback more often.
“Certainly want to take advantage of some of his abilities,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio told reporters Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. “I think he’s a really good football player. He’s gifted athletically. Super long and fast and tough.
“We feel like the one area we’d like to use him more is the going forward part. He’s done a lot of coverage. He really is more natural at rushing, but he’s been asked to do a lot of coverage and he’s done a really nice job for them. Obviously he’s been a part of probably the best defense in the league the last four years.”
Those words are very similar to what Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. were saying a year ago about Khalil Mack, who jumped from a four-sack rookie season to 15 last year, good for second in the NFL.
Irvin, according to Pro Football Focus, has on average played 18.4 percent of his snaps in pass coverage for his career and rushed the passer just 44.3 percent of the time. Mack, by comparison, rushed the passer on 56.2 percent of his snaps last year, an increase of 10 percent from his rookie season.
“It was something that Khalil Mack liked last year,” Del Rio said of the increased emphasis on pass rushing. “Very similarly with Bruce, we’d like to bring him forward more often. The guy’s a gifted pass rusher. It’s going to be tough to deal with his length and speed on our defense.”
The defense’s other big addition, cornerback Sean Smith, also fits that long and athletic mold Del Rio and general manager Reggie McKenzie love and the 6-foot-3 veteran should big a big help in the secondary.
“Love his competitiveness,” Del Rio said. “Sean’s a long athlete. He is a veteran with an understanding of who he is and where he fits in this league. He brings that knowledge of playing that position at a high level for a long time in this league. We needed a veteran presence in our secondary. It was good to get it.”
One thing that’s helped the Raiders gain relevance in the league in Del Rio’s first year-plus is the strong working relationship he’s developed with McKenzie. They’ve got a similar design on how to build a team.
“We’ve had a unified approach from Day 1 of getting in the building,” Del Rio said. “We both like big, strong, tough guys and we’ve added a few of those guys over the last couple of years.”