There’s a battle among the edge rushers on the Raiders to find a pass rush this season. Neither of the veteran defensive ends on the team were suited up for the game — Josh Mauro and Benson Mayowa, leaving the battle to the rest of defensive ends.
Incumbent starter Arden Key didn’t take the field to start the game. The starters were rookies Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby — his primary competition for playing time this season. Key would soon get in the game and by the end, he led all defensive ends in snaps.
The second year edge rusher made the most of his playing time. He was third on the team with three combined tackles, had the Raiders’ only sack, and added a couple quarterback hits as well.
“I think Arden Key had a good game. He made a lot of plays. Credit to him, he played a lot of football tonight. I thought he stood out.”
Key said he feels different this year than he did last year in every aspect. From pre-snap to when he gets to the quarterback.
“You expect things just looking at the backfield set, the running back gives you and the tight end gives you about whatever plays about to happen,” Key said of his pre-snap. “You know what’s about to happen, you know what the offensive lineman can’t do, so now you know what to do.”
The always smiling and jovial Key has often spoken of how many sacks he left on the field last season. It’s around 13 by his count. He only had on official sack credited to him last season. For that reason defensive coordinator Paul Guenther had Key get stronger.
While getting stronger is important, it won’t help him finish plays. That comes with experience and good coaching. He has the first from playing a lot more as a rookie than the Raiders had hoped. The second comes in the form of new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner.
‘Coach Buck’ stresses wins and losses at the line before the snap and Key is eating up that instruction. It has affected every part of his rush to the point where even in the split second he bursts off the line, he knows if he is getting to the quarterback. Which he did once in the game.
“I saw an opening. I knew I beat him with the hands, and I knew I had to speed up the process as soon as I beat him for him not to recover,” said Key. “And I just saw him wide open and I grabbed him. I had to make sure I grabbed him and wrapped him up.”
This was his sack last night where he showed the burst and bend we expected to see from him more often last season.
It’s important to note that Key wasn’t going against starters in this game. This wasn’t Rams starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth on whom Key was getting the edge. It was third round rookie Bobby Evans who Key got around.
That being said, it’s not about the talent in front of him. It’s about his mindset. He is seeing the game differently. That’s what you want to see from a player in his second season. While he may spend a lot more time on the sideline this season than last year when he was forced into action, when he does see the field, he should be more productive with his limited snaps.