ALAMEDA, Calif. — Not until the 16th defensive snap Thursday did Bruce Irvin, the Raiders’ most accomplished pass rusher who is making $8 million and who teammates voted as a team captain, first touch the field.
It was near the goal line. A non-pass rush situation.
This is where Irvin’s role stands.
Of the 22 defenders active against the San Franicsco 49ers, no one played less Thursday than Irvin. The end saw nine snaps on defense and zero on special teams. The only Raiders defender in uniform who saw less defensive action, linebacker Kyle Wilber, balanced his two snaps with a team-high 25 on special teams.
Irvin is expected to be released in the offseason, giving the $9 million salary that awaits in 2019 and its disproportion to his on-field contribution.
Still, the usage begged the question to coach Jon Gruden: Why?
Before the answer, a logical theory tied to a pectoral injury that has limited Irvin in practice leading up to the past two games. Last Sunday, he played what was then a season-low 24 snaps against the Indianapolis Colts. But Gruden did not cite a medical reason at his Friday news conference.
“Well, (Thursday) night we weren’t in our nickel defense very much,” Gruden said. “Remember: We’re a 4-3 team. We’re not a 3-4. So in the base defense, sometimes he doesn’t fit the role that we need done. No disrespect to Bruce. He’s an edge rusher. We haven’t had a lead. We haven’t had the opposition behind in the chains a lot. So his role has been reduced.
“I know he’s frustrated. I’m frustrated. We’ll try to solve that as soon as possible. He’s a good player. He’s a good player.”
■ Offensive tackle David Sharpe was claimed off waivers from the Houston Texans. The Raiders’ 2017 fourth-round pick returns to provide depth at a position where T.J. Clemmings suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday. Clemmings was placed on injured reserve. Sharpe was claimed before left tackle Kolton Miller (knee) exited Thursday.
■ An emotional sideline exchange Thursday between Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was caught on the television broadcast. Gruden downplayed the moment, telling reporters, “You should see us on the golf course. …I’m sure emotions get caught on tape sometimes, but there’s not a better coach I know than Paul Guenther. There’s not a better friend that I have than Paul Guenther. We’re going to argue and jaw, probably tonight, deep into the night over a lot of things. I’ll see if we can video footage for you.”