“They call me ‘OG’ in the locker room,” said Irvin, who remembers calling veterans like Red Bryant and Chris Clemons the same thing much earlier in his career. “I’ve got to get used to that, man. Now you’ve got Jamal Adams and those types of guys calling me OG. I’m like, ‘dang, am I really old?’ Am I really old, though? I just don’t get it.”
Irvin is sure of this: at 32 and in his ninth season, he’s not over the hill.
He wanted to show that to anyone who thinks otherwise when he leapfrogged a pop-up tackling dummy, at 6-foot-3 and 258 pounds, during a recent practice.
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“I just read all these things about he’s old, he’s lost a step,” said Irvin, who had a career-high 8.5 sacks last year with the Carolina Panthers. “It’s just crazy to me because I’ve never — knock on wood — I’ve never had any crazy injuries, I don’t miss games and I just be like, man, these people. I really did that so y’all really could see that, honestly, because I knew that y’all was watching and I’m like, ‘these folks think I’m old, so let me just show them I still got some juice in me.’ That was more just to show people that I’ve still got a lot left in the tank, man.”
The Seahawks need all of it given how much they’re counting on Irvin in 2020, both as their starting strong-side linebacker and the most accomplished piece of a pass rush that remains their biggest question mark on defense.
And when the Seahawks gave Irvin a one-year, $5.5 million deal in March, another benefit to bringing him back to the organization that drafted him 15th overall in 2012 was his potential impact in the defensive line room. It’s a young group outside of Irvin, Jarran Reed and Benson Mayowa which includes rookie draft picks Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson plus second- and third-year players such as L.J. Collier, Poona Ford and Rasheem Green.
Irvin has gained perspective since leaving Seattle in 2016 for a free-agent deal with the Raiders. He’s realized through stops in Oakland, Atlanta and Carolina — where he spent the last two seasons — how good he had it in Seattle.
“This is a very special place, and it took me to leave here to really notice that,” Irvin said. “I was a younger guy who when I was here I would say, ‘I wonder how it is on another team.’ And [vice president of player engagement] Mo Kelly would always tell me the grass isn’t always greener, and when I got to other teams I really realized that it’s really a good situation over here. Guys hold each other accountable, they hold themselves accountable and that’s what you want, each guy believing in one goal, being connected and trying to get this thing accomplished and trying to get another trophy back to Seattle.”
By his own admission, Irvin only “somewhat” held himself accountable during his first Seahawks stint, which included a four-game PED suspension to begin the 2013 season.
“When you get here … you either buy in or you don’t, so that’s kind of the culture here,” Irvin said. “If you don’t, you’ll get weeded up out of here. When I first got here, I was a young guy. I had got paid, most money I ever had in my career at that time. My background was a little tough. So I had a little problem buying in and being accountable. As I matured my second, third, fourth year, I would say I started to make that transition and I think it carried over when I left.”
Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has seen that transition as closely as anyone. He was Irvin’s position coach in Seattle from 2013-15, then his DC for parts of two seasons in Oakland. Reunited with the Seahawks, Norton now holds Irvin up as an example to young players about where they begin and what they can become.
Irvin’s beginning was a rough as can be. He was in and out of jail as a youth, selling drugs and hanging out in trap houses without a home of his own to go to. He’s now the fourth-oldest player on Seattle’s roster behind Duane Brown, Greg Olsen and Mike Iupati.
“He’s mature, he’s smart, he knows how to show up every day, he knows how to take care of his body, he knows when the lights come on, it’s show time and you must perform, he understands how important practice is,” Norton said. “He also understands how important it is to help me develop the younger players. He knows what it was like when he was young …”
Back then, what mattered to Irvin were material things like cars and jewelry. Now, it’s his growing family.
“My ‘why’ now is my wife, my kids, my family, generational wealth,” he said. “It’s just a different mindset now, man. I’m just thankful I was able to mature and see that. Most guys be 31, 32 years old still out here chasing women and buying a lot of cars and stuff like that. I was fortunate enough to really see the light and kinda transition away from that and just focus on what really matters. I’m on the back end. The jewelry and stuff won’t matter when I’m done. My kids and my wife, that’s the stuff that’s gonna matter.”
Norton and coach Pete Carroll have both called Irvin the best strong-side linebacker they’ve had in Seattle. Irvin has also looked like their best pass-rusher in camp.
“It’s really good to have him here,” Norton said. “He’s at a really good place in his career and his life right now and we have really high expectations for him to really be a leader, a playmaker and a pass-rusher for us.”