Orgeron says LSU’s Key cleared to play vs Mississippi State

File-This Sept. 10, 2016, file photo shows Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins being sacked by LSU defensive end Arden Key (49) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La. Key was named to the AP Preseason All-America Team on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) LSU’s top pass rusher, Arden Key, has been cleared to come back from shoulder surgery and play Saturday at Mississippi State.

”We’re going to play him as much as we can. We’ll see during the week how much he can do,” Orgeron said Monday. ”Obviously we’re fired up to have Arden Key back.”

Key, who had an LSU single-season record 12 sacks in 2016, had surgery in the offseason and has been practicing on a limited basis this fall. Orgeron said LSU head trainer Jack Marucci has overseen Key’s performance in flexibility and strength tests he had to pass before being cleared for full contact.

This week, Orgeron said, Key is ”going to take full hits, full contact, and then we’ll see what’s happening.”

Key wasn’t quite ready for No. 12 LSU’s season opener against BYU on Sept. 2, but the Tigers still managed three sacks in a dominant 27-0 victory. There would have been diminishing returns to rushing Key back last week for the Tigers’ home opener against Chattanooga of the NCAA’s second-tier Football Championship Subdivision. LSU won that game easily, 45-10.

Now LSU is getting ready to open Southeastern Conference play on the road.

”We thought this was a game he would be ready at. We weren’t sure, though. Obviously, he is,” Orgeron said. ”He worked very hard. Obviously, he’s a little bit heavier than he played last year, so he’s got to get in game shape. We’re going to see how he does.”

The 6-foot-6 Key, a junior, currently is listed at 265 pounds, up from 238 last season.

Whatever his weight, it sounds like Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen expects his blockers to have their hands full with him.

”He’s probably one of the most dominant players in the league. It’s just a mismatch,” Mullen said. ”He has the size, speed and physicality to be a real strong run stopper, but is just extremely disruptive as a pass rusher and can change a game.”

Key’s return bolsters a pass rush that has looked strong so far with eight sacks through two games. Orgeron said he’s unsure if defensive end Rashard Lawrence will return from an unspecified injury that sidelined him last weekend. However, much of the pressure has come from senior outside linebacker Corey Thompson, a converted former safety who did not play last season because of an injury, and top 2017 recruit K’Lavon Chaisson.

Thompson has 3+ sacks and Chaisson has two while starting in Key’s absence.

Chaisson is ”a very formidable backup,” Orgeron said. ”We can rotate them if we have to and give (Key) breaks. It all depends on his condition.”

Cornerback Andraez ”Greedy” Williams, who has intercepted a pass in each game so far, said Key’s return is ”very exciting” for a secondary that already has benefited from quarterback pressure.

”Now the ball has got to get out faster,” Williams said, ”So that’s more for me.”

AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Starkville, Mississippi, contributed to this report.

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