What a day.
The Oakland Raiders took the field for the first time as a full squad Friday afternoon, and there was a noticeable difference in the air.
On the heels of a disappointing 2017 season, members of the Silver and Black were eager to right the ship, and put the memory of last year’s season out of their mind. The team sputtered last year, and the defense in particular is ready to improve under Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther’s leadership.
When the defensive unit took the field, they set the tone early, with the mentality that they were going to play fast, and create turnovers. The secondary was productive, batting passes, and playing some physical defense against the wide receivers; however, all eyes were on linebacker Bruce Irvin, who made the afternoon all about him.
In a number of series, Irvin made the offense uncomfortable by disrupting the pocket, and being in the right place at the right time. First, No. 51 dropped back into coverage, hauling in an interception, and followed it up by punching the football free on a run play, thus forcing a fumble. To say the man had a nice day at the office would be an understatement.
Entering his seventh season in the league, Irvin is expected to continue serving as a commanding voice on defense, and in the locker room. The former first-round pick has been a quality contributor for the Raiders since arriving in 2016, and his teammates know it.
“I’d put Bruce Irvin in Justin Houston’s class, and Tamba Hali’s class, those type of guys,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “A guy that’s very energetic, big guy that can run, and drop them off in coverage. Bruce Irvin is pretty interesting, he’s a guy that’s pretty explosive, smart, I’ve known him because he’s in the same conference, I’ve known him for years, but to actually witness it on the field, he’s a pretty special guy.”
Coming from another well-versed veteran, it’s not hard to understand Irvin’s impact on the field, on and off of it. We’re only one day into camp, but the former West Virginia Mountaineer seems to be clicking with his new teammates.
“It’s amazing [working with Irvin],” linebacker Tahir Whitehead added. “High energy guy, go hard, you know what you’re getting every day. We had a great day today, it’s going to be a lot of back and forth throughout training camp. That’s the only way we’re going to get better every day.”
In his last two seasons with the team, Irvin has started in all 32 games, and totaled 10 forced fumbles, 15 sacks, and 115 tackles. Now that Guenther and Head Coach Jon Gruden have decided to let Irvin play his natural position, and rush the passer consistently, the expectation is that he’ll flourish in his new role.
“Bruce Irvin is playing his natural position on an every down basis,” Gruden said. “I think he’s a hell of a player.”
Linebacker Derrick Johnson: “It’s going to be certain days where the defense is going to dominate, not to say the defense is going to dominate every day, but there were a few plays courtesy of Bruce Irvin. Strip fumble, got a pick today, so he made a little money today, so that’s pretty good. Those are momentum changing plays, that’s who we need being on defense, and when you can create habits like that throughout training camp, good things happen for you on Sunday.”
Head Coach Jon Gruden: “[Kolton Miller] is doing pretty good. He’s blocking a beast over there. Bruce Irvin is one of our captains right now and he’s going to test Miller every day. We’re really pleased with Kolton, not only from an athletic standpoint but from a mental standpoint. [Offensive Line Coach Tom] Cable is on him every day. He’s learning how to play with Derek Carr, who’s doing a lot at the line of scrimmage. He’s showing a lot of poise and he’s very talented.”