It's not that Irvin minds the chants of "Bruuuuuuuuuuce" that rain down from the stands after a sack, or even the greetings he gets when he's out in public. A friendly man with a big, quick smile, Irvin knows that racking up sacks has earned him notoriety among the Mountaineer faithful, and he embraces that. It's the attention that he's bound to get from West Virginia's 12 opponents this season that he'd like to deflect.
"It's going to be harder,, because teams know who I am," he said of the chances of duplicating or improving upon his 2010 performance, when he racked up 14 sacks while playing almost exclusively in passing situations. "I'm going to be in there every down, so they are probably going to have a tight end or a running back trying to chip me or a guard coming out to help on me. [WVU's] offense has been doing some of that. It's going to be different for me, but if they help on me someone else is going to be open, so that's just as good."
Of course, many onlookers expect Irvin to improve on those numbers from a year ago, considering that he expects to play much more regularly in 2011. Talk of 20+ sacks has become almost commonplace, but Bruce is realistic in managing expectations. If he's double- or triple-teamed on many plays, it's going to be more difficult to achieve those numbers.
"I can try to beat them with my speed. I know it's coming,so I have to work extra hard in the offeseason," he said of what he can do to counter additional blockers. The Big East knows who I am, so I'm expecting it. If they get on me and Julian Miller has a monster season, it's just as good as me having a monster season."
Irvin is happy with what he accomplished last year, but is quick to change topics, noting that 2010 "is in the past". He's looking forward to what this year's line can accomplish, and believes that he and Miller can feed off each other's accomplishments, and also take advantage of extra attention paid to the other.
"Maybe they'll start doubling him and stay off me," he said with his trademark deep laugh and big grin. "But he's like a brother to me, and we're all in it together."
In addition to play on the field, Irvin, Miller and other seniors are in the process of helping to rebuild a defense that was hit hard by graduation. Practice observers have noted a more vocal Irvin on the field this year.
"I want to say [me being more vocal] is a leadership role, but it's more if I have something to say I say it. I let Julian and Keith Tandy and Najee Goode do all of the talking and get the young boys right, but if I see something I don't like I am going to say something. "
That, of course, is another aspect of leadership, and it's one that Irvin has taken to quite naturally, even though it's just his second year on the team. Performance on the field often lends more weight to a player's words, and Irvin's carry as much impact as one of his quarterback hits. He'll point out things that are wrong and mistakes that need to be corrected, and, at the same time, celebrate big plays with loud whoops and a bit of talk. He also understands, however, that the defense, while showing promise this spring, still has much to do.
"The defense is still young, and we really don't have an identity yet. We are still learning the base defense, and I'm still learning too. We don't even have all of our plays installed yet. But it's a long time until September 3rd, so we will get it right."