Defensive end Arden Key strolled into the West Campus Apartments at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, the first LSU player to officially report for preseason camp.
Key appears to be No. 1 in more ways.
“He’s a guy that in my opinion will play a lot of the snaps as a true freshman,” coach Les Miles said.
Key, who seems to sit atop the pecking order of the Tigers’ 2015 signing class, made his long-awaited arrival to LSU, donning a gray tank top and showing up before any other player during the annual report day.
LSU players filed into the West Campus Apartments on Wednesday to check in for camp. Drills begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. LSU is scheduled to have two split-squad practices a day — a morning and afternoon session — for the first four days. On Monday, Day 5, the team will practice once and will don full pads for the first time. Monday’s practice also signifies the last day reporters are allowed to view a portion of drills.
All other practices — from Monday until possible bowl practices — will be closed to the media.
Key was a hot topic of discussion Wednesday as Miles, in a 20-minute news conference, praised the 6-foot-6, 240-pounder. After all, Key was rated by some as top three nationally at his position among those in the 2015 class. The Georgia native was a late commit, too, dropping a verbal pledge to South Carolina and picking LSU in a nationally televised announcement on Fox Sports South.
It all came days before National Signing Day and boosted LSU’s top-10 class. Key, though, was cleared too late to begin summer school and workouts in June with other freshmen.
Highly touted offensive lineman Chidi Valentine-Okeke also was cleared too late. Valentine-Okeke, like Key, reported to camp Wednesday. All LSU signees who qualified are on campus, the program said. Receiver Brandon Martin and defensive back Jeremy Cutrer did not qualify.
Key was spotted in the LSU football operations building’s lobby Wednesday afternoon with members of his family. He towered over others and his long, rangy arms hung by his side.
“I’m here!” Key posted on his Twitter account at 7:19 a.m. Wednesday.
He wasn’t the only athletic talent to arrive on campus Wednesday. The nation’s top-ranked 2016 recruit, New Jersey defensive tackle Rashan Gary, visited campus with his mother, according to multiple recruiting sites, including Rivals.com, Scout.com and 247Sports.com.
Gary, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound five-star prospect, is the No. 1-ranked player in this year’s class, according to 247Sports and Scout.com. Because of NCAA recruiting rules, Miles can’t comment on Gary’s visit. He could talk about Key, though.
“He went to work for the summer. He’s in great shape,” Miles said.
Key gained about 15-20 good pounds over the summer, the coach said. Any fear that he’d be out of shape upon arrival to Baton Rouge on Wednesday was put to bed when Miles saw Key.
“He’s lean and bigger and stronger than he was. He was maybe skinny before. He ain’t skinny any more. Big, tall, rangy, fast athlete,” he said. “If he can develop that, he’ll play at a high level.”
LSU might need Key more than ever. The Tigers are slim on experience and depth on the defensive line. LSU lost starting ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter, and end Maquedius Bain departed the program this week.
Miles said Bain was never reinstated from his suspension for an arrest in June.
The presumed starters at end are low on any game action. Tashawn Bower played in a reserve role last season and struggled at times. Lewis Neal didn’t even play end — he was a tackle.
Is Key the guy the Tigers can count on? He’s off to a good start, being the first to arrive and in grand shape.
“His father, Arden Key Sr., also took a lot of responsibility there,” Miles said of Key’s summer workouts. “Got him in the gym , did a lot of work for him. “I think his dad is not quite in the same shape that Arden’s in, but I think he was in attendance at every event.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.