09/12/15 LSU vs. Mississippi State

LSU Freshman Defensive End, Arden Key (49), jogs the field in between plays during the Tigers 21-19 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday, at Davis Wade Stadium.

Nicholas Martino

He warned us.

At LSU Media Day on Aug. 16, freshman defensive linemen Arden Key said things would get interesting midseason.

“When I become an every-down guy, it’s going to be scary,” Key said.

Key, a four-star recruit from Atlanta, Georgia, saw increased playing throughout in his first five games as a Tiger. He started each of the team’s last two games against Eastern Michigan University and the University of South Carolina.

The 6-foot-6-inch Under Armour All-American has 15 total tackles, five quarterback hurries, one sack and one pass-breakup. However, some of the things Key does aren’t always depicted on the statsheet. Although he is a true freshman, Key is already starting to draw double teams, allowing his teammates to put pressure on the quarterback and make plays of their own.

Senior linebacker Deion Jones said he felt the Key effect when the Tigers played Eastern Michigan on Oct. 3. Jones intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown after Key pressured the quarterback into making an errant throw.

Key recorded an impressive 15 sacks in his senior season at Hapeville Charter Academy. He wasn’t able to participate in summer workouts with the LSU (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) football program because of academic issues that kept him from enrolling until early August.

Key said not being able to join the rest of his teammates in June took a toll on him mentally.

“I gave myself a week and a half,” Key said. “I was like, ‘Man, do I still want to play football?’”

When Key arrived on campus, he played as if he participated in every summer workout.

Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said Key was his first target when he accepted the position as LSU’s defensive line coach, but he didn’t know just how gifted Key was.

“Coach O[rgeron] said he didn’t realize how good I was,” Key said. “That wasn’t a knock on me. I went to train with Chuck Smith, so he taught me a lot of things that a lot of people didn’t see until camp started.”

Before he was Key’s mentor, Smith played in the NFL for nine seasons and earned 58.5 sacks over the course of his career. Since retiring, he’s worked with some of the premier pass rushers in the game, including former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley.

Smith said Key has a few traits that don’t come from coaching or studying film.

“He’s a great competitor — he’s got that dog in him,” Smith said. “He’s a guy that’s never going to quit.”

Smith got Key ready for SEC football by adding a variety of moves to his repertoire. Key said Orgeron also equipped him with a few techniques since arriving in Baton Rouge.

“[Orgeron] worked on different techniques for me to beat [offensive tackles],” Key said. “It’s a lot of techniques, and that’s what I love. I love to learn new things and try them.”

Key made the decision to attend LSU after the Tigers added defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and Orgeron to the coaching staff. Steele’s base defense involves a four-man-front that allows pass rushers to develop their skills, Smith said.

Last year, LSU finished the season with 19 total sacks. This year, the Tigers brought the quarterback down 12 times in their first five games.

“Arden Key wouldn’t have been at LSU last year,” Smith said. “There was no pass rush. The best decision LSU ever made was bringing Kevin Steele and Orgeron in and letting them run a four-man-front.”

Key is starting to draw comparisons to an LSU great, defensive end Barkevious Mingo. Many of the comparisons might stem from the two sharing the same number, but Orgeron said the two share the same speed as well

“Athletically, he looks like [Mingo] but obviously you got to produce,” Orgeron said. “That’s a good comparison, and hopefully he can become as good or better.”

Smith said Key can play both defensive linemen and linebacker at a high level, and Key showed that versatility against the Gamecocks, staying in the game as a stand-up defensive lineman when LSU opted for its nickel package.

“People haven’t seen Arden scratch the surface of what he’s going to be,” Smith said. “If he stays healthy, he has a chance to be the number one pick in the NFL draft one day.”

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