"We had other kids who could play first and second down and if we tried to force-feed him all of that we were going to take away what he does best, which is put your hand on the ground and go get it. All along we were just waiting for spring to start really working with him and teaching him. And now we have that chance.''
The early returns? Well, in three days of mostly non-contact work, Irvin has been phenomenal. Truth be told, though, while working against West Virginia's pass-heavy new offense, he's mostly just doing what he did a year ago.
Where Irvin will learn and be asked to improve is during individual drills and position work, the nitty gritty stuff that few pay attention to as a general rule.
Everyone wants to know how that's going, but it's not something that is easily judged.
"I think that probably too much is going to be made of that. I think that's everybody's goal, to make Bruce into an every-down player,'' Casteel said. "I think he'll be fine by the time September rolls around.''
For Irvin's part, he began the transition long before spring practice began, during the offseason workouts that had nothing to do with technique. There's another, pretty basic, difference between being a third-down player and an every-down defender.
"You have to condition yourself more,'' Irvin said. "I've been working out two or three times a day, every day because I know it's going to take that to be an every-down player instead of just coming in on third down and being fresh.''
His own evaluation of where he stands?
"We've been in shirts and shorts and you can't really tell much from that,'' Irvin said. "But I'm confident in myself. I know I can play the run and the pass. You'll get a better view when we put the pads on, but I know I'm more than just a third-down player.''
As a run defender, of course, Irvin is going to have to face interior linemen who might outweigh him by as much 100 pounds. It's a lot different battling those guys in the trenches than simply using speed and quickness to get around them to the passer.
"That's one of the things we were concerned about Bruce last year was whether he could handle a 330-pound guy,'' Casteel said.
So Irvin spent much of the winter working out with one of those behemoths, 338-pound offensive tackle Quinton Spain.
It's one thing to develop the strength to battle those guys and quite another to learn all the ins and outs of how to do it. Thus the Football Fundamentals 101 course Irvin is a part of this month.
"He's got to learn to play the position,'' Casteel said. "It's like anything else, you can't just walk in and play it. You have to learn. Particularly the closer you are to the football, the better you're going to have to be with your hands and leverage and those things.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.