Defensive end Arden Key had looked good in early training camp scrimmages and drills, but the Raiders were eager to see if the second-year player would be impressive in a game situation.
Key answered that question with a clear "yes," with his strong performance in the Raiders’ 14-3 exhibition victory over the visiting Los Angeles Rams Saturday night.
Key played 33 snaps and had a sack, two quarterback hits and three tackles, including one for a loss.
Key played a lot as a rookie in 2018, but wasn’t the high-impact pass-rushing defensive end the Raiders had hoped for when they drafted him in the third round out of LSU.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder had flashed terrific pass-rush talent in college, putting up 11 sacks as a sophomore before collecting just 5½ in his final season as a junior before going pro.
Over 16 games in Oakland in 2018, Key had just one sack – though he often was close to getting his hands on opposing quarterbacks.
Now, the Raiders’ plan is to use Key as a situational pass rusher, with Josh Mauro (better against the run) the starter in base defense. Coaches believe Key and rookie Clelin Ferrell on the outside in passing situations could produce more pressure in 2019 – and Key’s first game seemed to indicate that plan might work.
Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report, in fact, selected Key as one of the big winners around the NFL in Week 1 of the exhibition season.
"So, Key securing a sack in the first preseason contest against the Rams is no small feat," he wrote. "Key’s second-year improvement opposite Ferrell is, well, key to the Raiders’ defensive growth. … Key will be used in sub packages as a primary edge rusher.
"The Raiders are talented, albeit young, up front. Key, Ferrell, (Maxx) Crosby, (Maurice) Hurst and (P.J.) Hall should be able to generate significantly more pressure than the group did a year ago. One sack might not seem like a lot, but the moment means everything to the Raiders."
The Raiders have a short turnaround this week, with exhibition No. 2 set for Thursday night in Arizona vs. the Cardinals.