MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bruce Irvin's eyes light up when he starts to think about what the new West Virginia offense might do to help the defense.
"If we can put some points on the board, make them play catch-up and turn it into a passing game, that's what we want," he said.
Opposing teams will not want to be in obvious passing situations with Irvin lined up at defensive end. When that happened last season, he registered 14 sacks, tops in the Big East and second nationally. We know what Irvin can do when he's allowed to use his explosive speed off the edge. We're about to find out what he can do as an every-down player.
Irvin was only used on third downs in the first half of last season, and while he played more as 2010 wore on, he still filled the role of specialist. Now in his second year with the Mountaineers, he's in position to start and stay on the field a lot more. Irvin said the perception that he couldn't do that last season was wrong; it's just that he got a late start by not arriving from junior college until the summer.
"I felt like I came in here late and wasn't able to really learn the defense like I should have to be an every-down player," he said. "We had four fifth-year seniors, so I got in where I fit in."
While Irvin now understands the defense a lot better, he knows he has to get bigger and stronger to be able to stop the run and stay on the field. But not too strong. He played at about 233 pounds last season and says he's about 238 now. He doesn't want to get much bigger than 240 or risk losing his biggest attribute.
"I don't think he'll ever be a big kid, and that would be sort of taking away from his strength, which is his speed," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "He reminds me of a kid we had on the 2008 Fiesta Bowl team, Johnny Dingle, who was about 245, 250 pounds. So we've played with players his size [on the defensive line] before."
Irvin is focused not just on getting stronger, but building stamina.
"Instead of me coming in fresh when the opposing team is already tired and out of wind, I've got to be prepared to play first, second and third down," he said. "I'm working twice as hard as I have, two or three times a day."
Whatever he's doing is working in practice. When West Virginia went to full pads on Wednesday, Irvin was dominant while continually getting into the backfield. Against an offensive line missing its two starting tackles for the spring, he had an almost unfair advantage.
Keep in mind, too, that Irvin barely played high school football and has had only one season of FBS-level competition under his belt. He says that "upstairs, I'm still kind of young to the game." As he continues to mature and spend more time lined up at defensive end, who knows what kind of numbers he could produce in 2011.