By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Reinforcements could be on the way as the LSU defense gears up for the stiffest test of the early season.
All-American edge rusher Arden Key has been cleared to play against Mississippi State, LSU coach Ed Orgeron announced during his press luncheon Monday.
“He’s going to work hard all week in full contact, and we’ll play him as much as we can,” the coach said. “We’ll see during the week, see how much he can do.”
Mississippi State has been LSU’s target date for Key’s return since the summer, Orgeron said. LSU trainer Jack Marucci cleared him this weekend after the outside linebacker passed several strength tests.
Key has missed the first two games of LSU’s season while working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery. He participated fully in practice for the first time last week, a significant step in the road to recovery.
How much Key plays against the Bulldogs will depend on what he shows in practice this week, Orgeron said. True freshman K’Lavon Chaisson, who had two sacks this week, provides a more than capable backup to rotate with Key.
“We can rotate him if we have to give him breaks,” Orgeron said. “All depends on his conditioning.”
It’s difficult to quantify exactly what Key adds to a defense that’s competently rushed two quarterbacks during his absence.
Even on a limited snap count, Key can be a major difference maker. He’s projected as a top-10 in next year’s NFL Draft and set the LSU single-season sack record last season.
There’s not a play he’s on the field that the opposing offense isn’t concerned about him, meaning opposing lines are generally going to shift their protection in his direction. That only serves to free up more opportunities for the other pass rushers around him.
“He definitely brings a different skill set that they’ll have to plan for,” JD Moore said. “He’s not just somebody that you can sleep easy at night knowing you’re going to block. He’s somebody that’ll be a threat no matter what side of the ball he’s on. It doesn’t matter if you’re running or passing, he’s going to be in position to make big plays.”
– Defensive end Rashard Lawrence is “questionable,” Orgeron said, after missing the UT-Chattanooga game. He was spotted with a walking boot prior to kickoff. “I don’t know if Rashard Lawrence is going to play this week,” he said. “Honestly I don’t know how much he’ll practice.” LSU may shuffle the defensive line around if he can’t play, Orgeron said.
– LSU will “work hard” in practice this week to work out issues with the kicking game. Jack Gonsulin and Connor Culp are listed as co-starters separated by an “Or” in the official depth chart released Monday. Orgeron said he didn’t feel the lack of a special teams coordinator complicates the situation.
– Greedy Williams, Chaisson and Grant Delpit are listed as starters on the updated depth chart. Orgeron affirmed that Williams had supplanted Kevin Toliver as the starting cornerback at this point. “It’s a good problem to have, obviously, that Greedy waited his turn. Someone blinked. He moved in. And he’s holding on to that spot. He doesn’t want to give it up. That’s what we like about competition. There’s no sacred spots on our football team. We’re going to play the best players regardless of seniority of anything. And we want the guys that are playing the best. And right now Greedy is doing that.”