'He's Geno From West Virginia': Reunited With Seahawks, Bruce Irvin Wowed By Geno Smith's Resurgence – Sports Illustrated

RENTON, Wash. – Before he joined the Seahawks as a surprise first-round pick in 2012, Bruce Irvin put himself on the map as a premier pass rushing threat at West Virginia, helping the program post 19 combined victories during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Earning All-Big East honors, Irvin racked up 22.5 sacks and 29 tackles for loss in just two seasons on campus, enhancing his stock as a pro-caliber prospect. But he was far from the only future NFL talent on the Mountaineers' talented roster and from the sidelines, he witnessed first-hand the greatness of record-setting quarterback Geno Smith.
While Irvin terrorized opposing quarterbacks on Saturday, Smith steered one of college football's most explosive offenses under coach Dana Holgerson. As a junior in 2011, he lit up the skies with 31 touchdowns and 4,385 passing yards while throwing only seven interceptions, garnering First-Team All-Big Ten recognition. Off the field, the two became friends and have remained close since their respective departures from Morgantown to pursue NFL dreams.
Fast forwarding 11 years later, with Irvin signing to Seattle's practice squad on Wednesday, two friends find themselves on the same team once again in the Pacific Northwest. Waiting for his opportunity while training in Georgia, Irvin has been watching Smith's re-emergence from afar orchestrating Seattle's seventh-ranked scoring offense, marveling at how he has performed stepping into Russell Wilson's stead under center.
"It's cool to see Geno get a shot as a youngin and have his struggles, never give up, sit behind Eli [Manning], Philip [Rivers], Russell [Wilson], and didn't complain," Irvin told reporters on Thursday. "As a competitor, that's hard, especially when you feel like you can play… Three years behind Russ and for him to get his shot and live up to expectation is really cool to see. That's what you want to see, a younger player grow into a really good player."
Rejuvenated after seven years learning as a backup behind Wilson, Philip Rivers, and Eli Manning with three different teams following a failed tenure with the Jets to begin his career, Smith has emulated the record-setting quarterback who lit up Big East and Big 12 defenses more than a decade ago in his first full season as a starter for the Seahawks.
Through the first five games, while Seattle has a 2-3 record, Smith sits in the top three in numerous traditional and advanced passing statistics. Shining running coordinator Shane Waldron's scheme, he ranks first in completion rate (75.2) and passer rating (113.2) and ranks third overall in yards per attempt (8.3). Per NFL Next Gen Stats, he's also first in completion rate above expectation (9.6) and Pro Football Focus has credited him with 11 big time throws, second behind only Bills star Josh Allen.
While many may be shocked by Smith's sensational play to this point, Irvin isn't surprised seeing him sling the pigskin all over the field and torch secondaries. Citing a remarkable off-platform 32-yard completion to Noah Fant after rolling out to his left in Sunday's loss to the Saints as one example, he remembers such arm talent being on frequent display at West Virginia before being drafted in the second round in 2013.
"He's confident, he's in command of the huddle, making unbelievable throws," Irvin said of Smith's career revival in Seattle. "He could always spin the ball. It's just he's confident now. He's got the team behind him now, he's the leader of the team, so you can see it. He's definitely looking like West Virginia Geno."
Defying all expectations after beating out Drew Lock for the starting job this summer, Smith has moved into the driver's seat for Comeback Player of the Year honors and though the Seahawks currently have a losing record, his ascendance gives the team a chance to hang around in the NFC West. But for them to keep pace in the division, the defense will have to improve quickly after yielding nearly 31 points per game in the first five contests.
Even as he approaches his 35th birthday, Seattle hopes Irvin makes a positive impact on that side of the football in a myriad of ways. Along with mentoring young players such as Darrell Taylor and Boye Mafe, he still has the athleticism, physicality, and football savvy to make a difference as a rotational defender. Given his prior background playing in a near-identical 3-4 defense in Chicago last year, he also should be able to help the defense shore up communication-related issues that have plagued them thus far.
From Smith's perspective, after seeing how Irvin disrupted games for the Mountaineers all those years ago and chased after quarterbacks in the NFL in a stellar 11-year career, he's excited to see what he can do on the field and in the locker room for the Seahawks.
"He’s a vet. He’s really good. He brings a lot of wisdom to the defense. He’s tough," Smith said of what Irvin brings the Seahawks. "He’s got the right mindset and he’s a guy who has won a Super Bowl here and so he has got that with him, and I think that can help out with a lot of the younger guys.”
In a year where expectations were quite low after trading Wilson to the Broncos and releasing long-time star linebacker Bobby Wagner, the Seahawks have set themselves up to surprise. One of many unexpected storylines for the franchise in what was supposed to be – and still may be – a rebuilding year, their chances of competing for a playoff spot in the wide-open NFC may hinge to varying degrees on a pair of reunited veteran West Virginia alums.
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