Panthers add veteran pass-rusher Bruce Irvin to defensive line in dire need of help

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News broke today that the Panthers have reached a one-year deal with former Atlanta Falcon, Bruce Irvin, most known for his days with the Seattle Seahawks. While Irvin’s most disruptive days may be behind him, this is an important addition to a defensive line that struggled last season and only weakened this offseason with Julius Pepper’s retirement.

The 31-year Irving, who played both with the Atlanta Falcons and the Oakland Raiders last season, joins a defensive line in Carolina that was verging on untenable heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Had Carolina not added a veteran like Irvin, they would likely be forced to draft a defensive end in the first round who they would be counting on to be a starter, or at the very least a big contributor.  Adding Irvin gives the Panthers a little flexibility in that first round and takes some of the pressure off of any defensive addition from being a day-one starter.

There’s somewhat of a split over Irvin’s effectiveness. Some point his release by Oakland as an indication of his decline. Oakland seemed to be in tank mode, dismantling their defense and there were clear schemtic incongruiencies after John Gruden took over. The Athetic’s Sheil Kapadia, however, noted, that “Irvin produced 6.5 sacks and 13 QB hits last year, splitting his time between Oakland and Atlanta. He produced a sack or QB hit on 8.3 percent of his pass-rush opportunities. That was the ninth-best mark among the 174 players who had at least 200 pass-rush snaps last season.

While immediate fan commentary vacillated between whether Irvin can be a difference maker, the signing signals perhaps something more intriguing. Over the past few months, Ron Rivera has suggested that the Panthers would be integrating more 3-4 looks into their defensive scheme. At first, we thought this would be just that, varied looks, not a philosophical shift. With Rivera likely on the hot-seat this season, changing defensive schemes seemed a bold move given it would take some real roster juggling to pull it off.

Maybe the Panthers, however, were better suited for a shift than we first thought. Dontari Poe has the body type to play over center, KK Short has the disruptive athleticism to play the edge, and maybe even that  Vernon Butler would be better suited for a end position in a 3-4 defense. This would stand up Mario Addison, who originally came into the league as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and pair him with Bruce Irvin who has had his best success in this defensive scheme.

Adding Irvin isboth critical to the Panthers immediate stability heading into the draft and a bold indication of a dramatic shift in the defensive philosophy moving forward. Add to that, it is another notch, at least on paper, to General Manager Marty Hurney’s offseason. Following the acquisition of center Matt Paradis, the unexpected signing of Daryl Williams, and now the addition of a seasoned veteran who can immediately inject life into a listless defensive line, Hurney continues to position Carolina to take the best available player in the draft and for a 2019 bounce-back season.

By Tony Dunn
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