ALAMEDA – Raiders edge rusher Arden Key has just one sack to his credit. That's not enough by the rookie's standard, or those developing his immense talent.
The third-round pick has been all around the quarterback lately without many impact stats to show for it, something that often happens to rookies now paid to pressure the passer.
"I think Arden, he should have about eight sacks right now if he could just get the guy to the ground," Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said in his Thursday press conference. "He's got his hands on the guy and tends to fall off. … He has had plenty of opportunities. I think he's understanding what it's like in there."
Key has gained far more experience that expected this season. He was drafted to develop behind experienced pass-rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, to enter as a ball full of energy on obvious passing downs.
"Arden has been doing a tremendous job and, to his credit, we drafted Arden as a nickel rusher, to go in there on third down," Guenther said. "He has played first, second and third down, and he's lasted through the season doing it. It not only was a great educational year for him, now he understands like what is in there every down."
Key is the Raiders' most talented pass-rusher – the unit as a whole has struggled mightily with a lack of depth and top-tier talent – so the rookie's getting the star treatment. Protection is sliding his way. He's getting chipped near the line of scrimmage. He's also playing the run far more, and learning on the job how to deal with misdirection and proper edge setting in the run game.
Key has worked hard to improve in season, but he'll benefit from a true offseason where he can improve physically and refine technique.
Guenther believes those efforts will help tremendously.
"He needs to get stronger. We addressed that with him," Guenther said. "Obviously, you get into the season and it's tough to build strength when you are on the kind of schedule we are. 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."