The above question is one that was temping to ask in the wake of the Super Bowl win over Denver.
Somewhat lost in the enormity of the Seattle 43-8 win — and it only makes sense that most things were lost in the shuffle of that game — is that the Seahawks shuffled their linebacking corps a little bit due to the return to health of K.J. Wright.
With Wright back, Seattle used him at strongside linebacker, with Bobby Wagner in the middle and Malcolm Smith starting at weakside. Wright was the starter for most of the year at the WLB spot until he hurt his foot against the 49ers on Dec. 8. Smith, who had played some SLB and WLB, then stepped in and played so well that the team didn’t want to take him out of the lineup — with Seattle going with more nickel packages, Smith didn’t technically start the game, but Wagner (66), Wright (50) and Smith (34) got the bulk of the linebacking snaps for Seattle.
Irvin, meanwhile, played just 17 snaps, with almost all appearing to come at the team’s LEO, or rush end, spot (at some point I’ll watch the tape again to break it down specifically. EDIT — And I also should add that it’s more than possible the LB alignment was a specific scheme thing against Denver’s offense, against which the Seahawks wanted to have their best pass defense personnel on the field as often as possible). That was where he played almost exclusively in 2012 before making the switch to linebacker.
Seattle coaches, though, have always been careful to say that Irvin isn’t switching p0sitions exclusively to linebacker, but merely adding that to his duties as a rush end.
And this week, both head coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn reiterated that Irvin is essentially both a DE and an LB in saying there is no change in his role.
Quinn, in an interview on ESPN 710, is “really in the right spot,” though he also adds that the SLB and LEO spots “are so closely connected in how we play them” that they can be rather interchangeable.
Carroll, in an interview with a few reporters at the NFL Combine, said that Irvin’s role is “a blend, and it will continue to be a blend of the outside backer stuff and the rush end stuff, and we are thrilled about him. He had a really good year playing linebacker and we want to continue to develop his rush ability. It took away a little bit from that (playing LEO) because he was dropping and covering people, which he did really well. But we’d like to continue to develop his rush ability as we go forward. We used him in the (Super Bowl) quite a bit (at LEO) but he was sprinkled in throughout the season.”
So basically, Carroll was saying that Irvin was indeed used more at the LEO spot in the Super Bowl (in fact, he was listed at defensive end in the official NFL play-by-play) but that that doesn’t signify any sort of change going forward other than that they want Irvin to continue playing both spots.
Irvin’s versatility could prove useful going forward, though, as Seattle obviously have some change at its defensive ends spot with Chris Clemons likely to be released, and other moves always possible. Given the way that Seattle’s LBs played down the stretch, though, it might be hard to break up the Wagner-Smith-Wright trio, which also might mean Seattle could look for more ways to use Irvin in the LEO-pass rush role, while still using him some at SLB, even if he’s not the starter.
Asked if the emergence of Smith down the stretch changes Seattle’s linebacking corps, Carroll said “it doesn’t change it so much. It just adds to it. Just gies us tremendous depth and the way that Malcolm’s production showed last season, gosh he was huge and did a great job for us. So we are just right. It’s just a great area for us because we have rotations we can work there and some flexibility that we can use our guys. So we will try to develop all of that.”
And continuing to develop Irvin will be critical in 2014. He was the team’s first-round pick in 2012, and while he had some good moments this season, the team will surely be hoping for more next year, be it at SLB or the rush end spot.