Outside linebackers shuffle after two early injuries
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Arden Key has some lofty personal goals for his sophomore season at LSU.
“I want 20 sacks,” Key began. “At least two pick-sixes, like five batted balls. I want to do pretty good this year.”
Yes, seriously. And Key didn’t just pull those numbers out of thin air. He’s thought about it, enough so that he could explain his logic to the aw-struck media contingent.
“Well 12 is the record here,” Key explained. “And I just want to be, within college football, I want to be ahead of everybody. I just want to be the best pass rusher to ever come out of college football.”
Key finished his first collegiate season with five sacks — three fewer than veteran teammate Lewis Neal — 6.5 tackles-for-loss and 41 total tackles. That was despite being a late arrival to fall camp.
“Doable,” defensive end Davon Godchaux smiled. “He’s a freak. 20 is pretty high, but I wouldn’t put anything past Arden Key because I’ve seen him do some nasty things in practice.”
There’s statistic evidence such a boom could be in the cards.
Key led the team with nine quarterback hurries, and according to Pro Football Focus College, he led LSU with a whopping 58 quarterback pressures last season. Among 4-3 defensive ends, only Tennessee’s Derek Barnett (62) and Illinois’ Dawuane Smoot (60) registered more in 2015.
Of course, that’s not the position Key plays these days. Now he’s the starting ‘Buck’ outside linebacker, meaning he aligns on the boundary side of the field, in Dave Aranda’s 3-4 defense.
His abilities as an edge rusher — and to drop in coverage, which he says he does “quite a bit” in scrimmages — figure to be one of the lynchpins of the new scheme, particularly in light of injuries to Corey Thompson and Isaiah Washington at the position.
Ed Orgeron, who works with the outside backers on pass rushing, assigns his charges NFL players to watch film on and imitate. Even during fall camp, it’s a regular part of film study in the defensive line room. Key has three All-Pros who he studies: Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Taylor.
The injuries have caused some shuffling at both outside linebacker spots. Tashawn Bower, fully healed from a “nick” that caused him to miss the start of camp, is now working at both spots, plus playing some defensive end.
“The terminology, and your drops and your rushes are different,” Bower explained. “But that’s what’s expected at this level, and if you want to play at the next level, they’re going to expect that of you too.”
According to Key, true freshman Michael Divinity has been playing in Thompson’s place at the “F-side” position, meaning the wide side of the field. Sci Martin, another true freshman, has replaced Washington and is working behind Key at the “Buck” position.
“We’re seeing where all the pieces fit right now and trying to figure out what works best,” Bower said. “One day I might be over there with the ‘Bucks.’ Another I may be with the ‘F’s.’ It’s really just It’s really just putting the pieces in the right places trying to create the best mismatches.”
Bower clarified that the mechanics of the two outside linebacker spots weren’t that different. Either spot can rush the passer or drop back into coverage, as Key mentioned.
Only time will tell if that element of camouflage will add up to the kind of record-setting season Key is angling for.