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Irvin's NFL draft status? Depends on whom you ask

MORGANTOWN - By all accounts, Bruce Irvin's position in next week's NFL draft is a crap shoot.

He could go as high as the first round by some miracle or as low as the third or fourth, according to projections. The reason is at the same time simple and complex.

It's simple because strong, fast, athletic pass rushers don't grow on trees. It becomes a bit more complex because of Irvin's relative lack of experience and training.

In other words, he could be a guy on which NFL team gambles with a high pick because of his attributes, or one that organizations shy away from because he's seen as a bit of a project.

But no matter what happens when the draft is held over three days beginning a week from Thursday, Irvin is soaking it all in and relishing it.

"I never thought I'd be in this situation so I'm just enjoying it,'' Irvin said. "I'm just enjoying the process and hopefully I'll land somewhere that I can go and make an immediate impact.''

Over the last month, Irvin has traveled around the country to do interviews with roughly one-third of the NFL's 32 teams. That's after he said he had personal interviews with 22 teams at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Although he played defensive end for his two seasons at West Virginia, most teams are looking at Irvin as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Only a handful of 4-3 teams have bothered talking to him because in that alignment he would likely remain an end, and at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds he is undersized to play on the line.

That position switch, though, only makes Irvin even more of an unknown. He's never played linebacker and would likely find himself in pass-coverage situations.

But even if Irvin is drafted primarily as a pass rusher at whatever position, there is also the inexperience factor there. He didn't play high school football after his sophomore year, went to junior college and was thrown into the fire as a pass-rushing defensive end, and then spent two years at West Virginia in the odd 3-3-5 defensive alignment that doesn't translate at all to what NFL defenses do.

Irvin, though, attempts to portray that as a plus, as in, "Just wait until I learn how to play the game.''

"To be honest, I've never been taught how to pass rush,'' Irvin said. "My last two years, I had 23 sacks. I've had like 40 in three years [including junior college], and I got it all on natural ability.''

That's true, at least to a certain extent. When Irvin arrived at West Virginia in August of 2010, he had no refined skills, only raw ability. With the season at hand, WVU's defensive coaches taught him a few basics about rushing the passer and then just let him go.

He had 14 sacks that year, second in the nation.

Before his senior season, West Virginia's defensive coaches worked with him more on technique, but the fact was that the scheme still did not lend itself to developing as a pass rusher. Playing in the run-heavy Big East, the linemen in that 3-3-5 defense were tasked mainly with stopping the run first and pass rushing second.

Irvin had 81/2 sacks as a senior.

"Not to knock my coaches, but they emphasized stopping the run and that's what we did. We never did any pass-rushing drills,'' Irvin said. "I feel like with the proper coaching and the right people around me, I feel like I can be a very, very productive player in this league for a lot of years.''

Therein rests the issue with Irvin in next week's draft. There is no question about his athleticism after he ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and wowed teams in almost all of the drills. But is that enough? Draft history is littered with players who were drafted on potential and athleticism but never developed.

Irvin dismisses the notion.

"I don't think it will be a hard transition because I'm a great athlete,'' Irvin said. "I played receiver in high school. I went to junior college as a free safety before I went to defensive end. All the [technical issues of pass rushing], I don't think that will be hard for me. The hardest part will be picking up the coverages and stuff like that. The physical part, I don't think that will be a problem.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.


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