ALAMEDA, Calif. — Almost.
An almost here. An almost there. In April, Raiders defensive end Arden Key sat in a meeting room at team headquarters where his new defensive line coach, former NFL defensive end Brentson Buckner, led a film review of play after play after play in which Key almost recorded a sack in 2018.
For months, these plays irked Key.
He and Buckner confronted them at once.
“He just had a whole clip of my almost 13 sacks,” Key said with a laugh. “Whether I fell, slipped, the quarterback got away, it was very nerve-wracking (to watch) because I could have had a better first year. But, hey, we all learn from those mistakes.”
The 2018 third-round pick looks to make a bigger impact this season. In working toward that goal, he’s grown bigger. Key is listed on the Raiders’ roster today at 238 pounds. But he said Wednesday that he reported to voluntary workouts at 245 pounds on April 15 and weighs 260 now.
If these figures are accurate, the two-month jump marks a radical difference.
It’s part of an eventful offseason.
Key entered knowing coaches wanted him to make substantial strength gains, which he planned to achieve through a balance of weight training, technique work and pilates. He revealed Wednesday, however, that he underwent surgery in January to “clean out” a shoulder injury suffered last summer during training camp.
Naturally, this created a slow start.
The effort picked up and ultimately intensified once he formally joined the Raiders. Here in Alameda, he worked closely with head strength and conditioning coach A.J. Neibel and his staff. Diet also played a significant role.
Key said the Raiders arranged for someone on staff to prepare his meals.
“Salmon, broccoli, rice, a lot of rice, chicken, steak, asparagus, and that’s it,” Key said. “It’s annoying. It’s the same thing over and over again. The taste, I got to ask them to add some hot sauce to it, or a little salt and pepper, but I got to do what I got to do.”
Last year, the Raiders planned for Key to handle a situational, third-down rusher role.
Instead, after the Khalil Mack trade and underwhelming play of such veterans as Bruce Irvin, Key became a two-way player who averaged about 40 defensive snaps per game. Despite the opportunity, he logged one sack.
As a team, the Raiders managed an NFL-low 13.
Although the franchise in recent months signed several veterans, drafted three defensive ends and seeks improvement from second-year defensive tackles P.J. Hall and Mo Hurst Jr., Key’s development is considered arguably the most crucial requisite to the team having a respectable pass rush this season.
Buckner has focused on Key’s angles to make him faster to the football.
“The ball isn’t snapped yet, (and) I just missed the sack already by alignment,” Key said. “Whether I was too wide, too tight, I didn’t turn my hips enough or I didn’t reach for him, turn my hips and different things like that. Most of it was just alignment and knowing what angles to take. Football is all about angles.”
With time, the Raiders hope, almost-sacks will become actual ones.