Initial plans for Arden Key when the Raiders selected him in the third round of this year’s draft was to use him as a situational pass rusher to complement Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. Those plans changed drastically this season, first when Mack was traded and later when Irvin was released, thrusting Key from nickel pass rusher to every down defensive end.
Now 15 weeks into the season, Key has played in 62.5 percent of the defensive snaps with just one sack to show for it.
At just 238 pounds, there was concern if Key could hold up as an every down edge setter. Early in the year, he went through some growing pains, especially against Jet sweeps. As the year has gone on he has vastly improved in that area.
He’s getting pressure as well, but it hasn’t translated into sacks, including a several times against the Broncos, twice resulting in big plays for Case Keenum.
“I wish he could close the deal,” said head coach Jon Gruden. . . “ He’s just got to be a better finisher when he gets home.”
The one sack to his credit doesn’t show the disruption he has generated the past few weeks. He’s been around the quarterback plenty but just has not been able to finish the play.
“I think Arden, he should have about eight sacks right now if he could just get the guy to the ground,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “He’s got his hands on the guy and tends to fall off.”
“He needs to get stronger. We addressed that with him.”
There’s no doubt Key will need to add strength and weight in the offseason. Ideally, he would bulk up to somewhere around 250 pounds. The key for him, if you will, is to add weight without losing quickness.
“As soon as the season is over he’s going to take a little bit of a break, a short break, and then get back here in the weight room. I think we have a plan for that. That’s the most important thing for him right now is to get stronger,” Guenther continued.
The coaches have plans for Key to be a big part of the rebuild. But the occasional pressure with no sacks is not going to cut it.