Ed Orgeron’s first assignment after being introduced as LSU’s new defensive line coach on Jan. 14 was an important one.
Actually, it was more like a mission to Orgeron, an energetic and relentless recruiter.
Less than 24 hours after attending a news conference with LSU coach Les Miles and new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, Orgeron flew to Atlanta and walked into Hapeville Charter School in Lithonia, Georgia, to meet with four-star prospect Arden Key — one of the nation’s top defensive ends.
A week earlier, Key had withdrawn his commitment to South Carolina.
“Les loved him,” Orgeron said at the team’s media day Sunday. “At the time, Arden wasn’t committed to us. When I got here, Les gave me a list of targets and said, ‘These are the guys we need.’
“Arden was my primary guy ... the first guy I went to see,” he added. “We needed some pass-rushing ends, and he was a big target for us. Arden liked the attacking 4-3 (front) we use and wanted to play in it. We hit it off, obviously, and he liked how we do it here.”
Just 17 days later, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Key announced he was headed to LSU to become part of the Tigers’ top-five nationally ranked recruiting class. He was rated the No. 3 weakside defensive end in the nation by 247 Sports.
“(Former defensive line) Coach Brick (Haley) did a great job recruiting me,” Key said. “But when Coach O got hired, I knew I was going to be an LSU Tiger.”
Six months after signing, even though he wasn’t cleared in time to join his new teammates for the summer semester and offseason workouts, Key is showing why he was such an important recruit for the LSU staff.
The Tigers lost both starting ends from last season, Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter, and Key has been pushing junior Tashawn Bower to step in on the right side and replace Hunter, who left school early for the NFL draft.
Key, who didn’t arrive on campus until Aug. 5, worked with the veterans from the first day of preseason camp and received most of the first-team snaps when Bower was sidelined a couple of days with an undisclosed illness.
“It’s been a lot of catching up, because I’ve only been here two weeks,” Key said. “I had to get familiar with the playbook. Most of the guys were ahead of me, so I had to learn it.”
He’s apparently a fast learner, drawing praise, along with fellow freshman defensive end Isaiah Washington, from Miles several times in camp and from Steele and Orgeron on Sunday.
“He’s a smart guy who plays with a huge motor and has a willingness to work and is competitive,” Steele said. “He picks things up very easily. … He doesn’t really look like a freshman other than the fact that he’s learning the playbook.”
“I like his maturity level; it really is very high for a freshman,” Orgeron said. “He’s got a quick-twitch as a pass-rusher, but he plays the run a lot better than most freshmen.”
Key admits, however, there was a bit of a transition period early — especially in practice when he had to go against offensive linemen who outweigh him by as much as 100 pounds.
“It’s been a learning experience, but it’s been great,” said Key, who had 15½ sacks as a senior to bring his total to 35½ for his three-year high school career. “The game is a lot faster, and a lot of the (linemen) are stronger. So I have to use technique instead of just going on talent.”
Speaking of talent, Key has already drawn comparisons to former LSU star defensive end Barkevious Mingo, and not just because Key wears the same number — 49 — Mingo did with the Tigers.
Key said he’s worn the number since his sophomore year of high school.
“The coaches have shown me videotape and pictures of him.” Key said of Mingo, a first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2013. “I see myself looking like him, maybe even like a little brother to him. But I eventually want (the comparisons) to stop and just be me, Arden Key.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.