Considering the fact his LSU Tigers are facing a dangerous opponent on the road in their Southeastern Conference opener on Saturday at Mississippi State, and the fact he was less than thrilled with some elements of his team’s performance in this past Saturday’s 45-10 win over Chattanooga, Ed Orgeron was in a pretty jovial mood as he addressed the media on Monday at his weekly news conference.
Maybe it was just one name that put a kick in Coach O’s champagne, that had his Inner O dancing for joy:
Arden Key is back.
Orgeron sort of coyly slipped the news, the most anticipated personnel news of LSU’s August or September so far, into his opening remarks after rehashing the facets of the Chattanooga game that he liked (no turnovers, again) and didn’t like (place-kicking issues, again).
That sly boots.
“Arden Key has been cleared to play this week,” Orgeron said, in what is the 10th paragraph of his transcript from Monday’s presser.
Oh, LSU’s wifi almost seized up from all the Tweets flying out of the Lawton Room after that one.
“He’s going to work hard all week in full contact and we’ll play him as much as we can,” Orgeron continued. “We’ll see during the week how much he can do.”
What Key can do, how much he can play, is a valid question. He appeared to be practicing full speed once LSU coaches took the non-contact jersey off him on Wednesday, though Monday’s practice is a lighter workout sans pads and helmets. The only issue for Key after an offseason filled with them — he sat out spring practice for unnamed “personal reasons” and subsequently had shoulder surgery — is how ready he can be. Orgeron also mentioned that Key is currently at about 265 pounds and that he’d like him to play at 260 or 255, another sliver of insight into his readiness.
Nonetheless, for the coach who has a fondness for caffeinated drinks, and his team, this is like a Red Bull with an espresso chaser.
Dave Aranda’s defense has been pretty darned salty without Key, albeit against outmanned competition (BYU, Chattanooga). But even if he only manages to get in for a couple dozen plays, it’s a confidence booster shot for the Tigers.
Key is a loud, emotional leader in the LSU locker room. His talent speaks even louder. Despite not having played a down this season, CBSSports.com still rates LSU’s edge rusher as the No. 1 prospect for the 2018 NFL draft. He’s the heir apparent to Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, who played a similar role for the Aggies last year and was the No. 1 overall selection by the Cleveland Browns.
If Key shows anything this season, he’s at least a lock (pun intended) top-10 draft pick. And he would be the greatest challenger to the glut of highly rated quarterbacks expected to populate the top of the first round like USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.
Mississippi State has an excellent quarterback, too, in Nick Fitzgerald, who led the SEC in total yards gained last season, while Key led the league in sacks. Fitzgerald, in fact, may be the biggest challenge at quarterback LSU faces all season. And from the sound of Orgeron’s words, the Tigers could be facing him without defensive end Rashard Lawrence, who practiced Monday but is listed as questionable to return from what is believed to be an ankle or foot injury.
It’s still going to be a tough game for LSU in cowbell-clanging Starkville, Mississippi, on Saturday night. But having Key back, for whatever he can give the Tigers, goes a long way to improving LSU’s odds of winning.