Bruce Irvin may not be a long-term solution for the Panthers, but in the short-term he will help Ron Rivera convert his defense to a 3-4.
The Panthers aren’t listing Bruce Irvin as both a defensive end and outside linebacker by accident. Part of head coach Ron Rivera’s interest in the 31-year-old pass rusher is clearly his versatility. Irvin’s arrival in Carolina will help the team transition from a traditional 4-3 defense to a more flexible 3-4 scheme.
The 6-foot-3, 250 pound veteran is signing a one-year contract with the Panthers. On the surface, Irvin looks like a like-for-like replacement for the retiring Julius Peppers. In reality, Irvin will provide the Panthers with a lot more than that.
General manager Marty Hurney is clear that Irvin’s primary role will be to rush the passer, but he wasn’t specific about where his harassment of the quarterback would begin. The lion’s share of his snaps will obviously come on the edge, but they could be split evenly between defensive end and outside linebacker. Irvin has played a lot of games at both positions during his NFL career.
It’s safe to expect the former Seahawks star to get a lot of snaps at linebacker alongside Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson. Thomas Davis’ departure in free agency leaves a hole at one outside linebacker spot for the Panthers. Don’t expect him to get a ton of run as a linebacker in 4-3 alignments though. Irvin isn’t a good enough run defender to thrive in that role.
Instead, look for him to cycle down to defensive end when the Panthers do elect to go with four defensive linemen. That means his snaps at linebacker will occur primarily when Carolina goes with a 3-4 look.
No matter what the scheme, Irvin will be primarily charged with getting after the quarterback. He’ll be an excellent situational pass-rusher for the Panthers next season. The team will need to be careful about overextending him on downs where the opponent is more likely to run the football.
One other interesting repercussion of this signing is how Irvin might impact what the Panthers will do in Round 1 of this year’s draft. Before the Irvin signing, it was glaringly obvious that Carolina needed to find an edge rusher with their first selection. His addition does increase the likelihood that Hurney and company might go with an offensive tackle instead.
Signing Irvin is a clear sign that the Panthers want to significantly change their defensive scheme in 2019. His ability to play both end and linebacker will give Rivera and his coaching staff the flexibility required to make the transition successfully.