OTAs 2022: Important leadership “on my shoulders…”

OTAs 2022: Important leadership "on my shoulders..."

JACKSONVILLE — Arden Key knows his job well.

And if pass rush isn’t the only reason the veteran defenseman is with the Jaguars, it’s an important reason – and it’s the one he mentions first when discussing his new team and teammates.

“My job is to get to quarterback,” Key said recently as the Jaguars resumed organized team activities in 2022 at TIAA Bank Field. “That’s my role, going to quarterback.”

Key, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in March, did so at a high level last season. He recorded a career-high 6.5 sacks for the San Francisco 49ers and is now a key part of what the Jaguars want from a deep, rotating — and punchy — defensive front.

“He’s a versatile defender whether he’s playing on the border or inside,” said Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson. “Obviously he puts value in third place. He’s a guy who keeps the defensive line fresh throughout a game so these guys don’t have to play 75-80 percent of the snaps.”

Pederson said this is key to an effective NFL pass rush, citing the deep — and talented — rotation of the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive line in 2017. That was the season the Eagles, with Pederson as head coach, won the Super bowl won.

“You can really spread it,” Pederson said. “People like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham only played 65 to 70 percent of the snaps because we took turns being guys. You have to have that – guys who can come in and contribute. He (Key) will be one of them guys.”

Key had a strong season in a similar situation in San Francisco last season. He played in all 17 games — and while he didn’t have any starts, his 6.5 sacks and 17 quarterback were both second on the team as well.

Not only did the Jaguars sign Key as a free agent this offseason, they also picked outside linebacker Travon Walker #1 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft and drafted linebacker Devin Lloyd in Round 1. Joining them are Front Seven, which already included players like outside linebacker and 2019 Pro Bowl select Josh Allen.

“They never said it was my job to make the pass rush group work, but I take it upon my shoulders,” Key said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us to grow as a line of defense in pass rush and build that camaraderie. We need to get those extra reps and learn how to pass rush together and get that chemistry together.

“We have people who can rush here. I’m here to get this started. There are a lot of guys who can kick their ass off. I’m here to add a piece of deed. Once we have the chemistry, that pass rush group can be special.”

Key said the chance to be part of a talented young pass-rush group was one of the reasons he signed with the Jaguars. Being part of a young team moving in the right direction was another.

“It’s a winning culture,” Key said. “It starts at the top and seeps down. You’re trying to win here and you’re tired of losing here. Obviously they’re making changes to reverse these things. I see a winning culture and an organization that believes it can win.”

Pederson this week praised wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr.’s upcoming offseason, saying the third-year veteran is “100 percent on the field.” Shenault, a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, caught 121 passes for 1,219 yards and five touchdowns in his first two seasons — with all five touchdowns coming during his rookie season. “When he gets a rep, it’s 100 percent and he’s done a good job of learning and absorbing the information,” Pederson said. “What’s really stood out about [Viska is how he really prepares for games, and obviously only with practice now.” Shenault has also worked on returning punts during OTAs, a role that Pederson says has challenged Shenault. “He’s another player who wants to win and do what he can for the team,” said Pederson. “That he wants to do that just shows his maturity and where he is in the phase of his career. The more people want to get up and do more things, the better off we will be.”

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