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Speed Package With Landry, Key Gives Titans Defense Different Look

One of the highlights of the Tennessee Titans' training camp so far is seeing outside linebackers Harold Landry III and Arden Key wreak havoc on the field while pressuring quarterbacks. They're becoming fast friends, too, and both are dead set on turning the 2023 Titans defense into a powerhouse.
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NASHVILLE — Harold Landry III was hurt, and not around. Arden Key wasn't even a part of the Tennessee Titans' program a year ago, a season that stunk to high heaven in the end.

New start, new beginning in 2023. And the most enjoyable thing to watch so far in training camp has been how pass rushers Landry and Key have been wreaking havoc on the practice fields from day one. 

They're both healthy, both fit at optimum weights after lots of hard work in the offseason, and both are dead set on making the Titans defense a scary group once again.

And best of all, they're becoming fast friends on the field and off. They're a tag team now, these talented outside linebackers who enjoy getting after the quarterback, and they're loving it.

"Yeah, we talk a lot, and talk about what we can do together to cause problems,'' said Key, a former Raider, 49er and Jaguar who found a home in Nashville in the offseason as he prepares to start his sixth NFL season. "Him as a rusher, he's a speed rusher dip guy. Nine times out of 10, (quarterbacks) are going to step up. We talk about if he's going to come high, then I'm going to come low. He's been dropping (into coverage) all his career, and we talk about that a lot too, what to do when he drops or I do.''

Outside linebacker Arden Key is fitting in nicely with the Tennessee Titans.

Outside linebacker Arden Key is fitting in nicely with the Tennessee Titans.

Last year during the Titans' 7-10 season that ended with seven straight losses, the Titans ranked No. 23 in yards allowed, which just doesn't happen typically with this franchise. Denico Autry led the team in sacks with eight, which ranked No. 30 in the league. 

There were issues across the board, obviously. The pass rush wasn't there, nor was their much lock-down coverage on the back end. 

Landry missed it all with an ACL injury, and he wasn't on the field during the spring and summer OTAs. But he's out there now, and feeling good. The Titans are thrilled to have him back, because he is — without question — an impact player.

"I'm excited to be here for sure," said Landry the Titans' second-round pick out of Boston College in 2018. "It's been awesome. Being away from the game as long as I have, missing all of last year, obviously you miss making plays in front of fans at the games because, that feeling is euphoric.

"But honestly, being away for that long, you start to appreciate it and miss it even more, just like coming out on the practice field and hearing Jeff (Simmons) talk (trash), or just hearing your guys joking around. But everybody is just out here grinding and having a good time. … I'm ecstatic to be back."

Landry, a Pro Bowl player in 2021, had 12 sacks that year, and 49 quarterback pressures. That's why he hated missing the '22 season, but says now that his knee "is damn near perfect."

Tennessee Titans linebacker Harold Landry III (58) stretches during practice Monday in Nashville. (Mark Zaleski/USA TODAY Sports)

Tennessee Titans linebacker Harold Landry III (58) stretches during practice Monday in Nashville. (Mark Zaleski/USA TODAY Sports)

A year of rehab is never fun, but just like how he plays, he attacked it with a vengeance.

"It's a long process, and throughout it you're definitely frustrated a little bit because there's times you're doing everything you can and you feel like you're kind of staying the same," Landry said. "Then out of nowhere, you just stick to the plan, trust the people you're working with and you make those jumps.

"Now, being where I'm at, it feels great. I don't even think about it when I'm out on the field. It's awesome, so kudos to all the people I've been working with and all the time and energy because it feels great. I'm definitely stronger, more explosive for sure, faster. I worked my ass off to get to this point, and the people here have helped me so much. I feel great."

Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen is thrilled with what he's seen from Landry so far a week into camp.

''He looks really good. You wouldn't know that he missed time for an ACL and for me, really, I kind of expected that with him, just with how he works, how he trains, how he pushes himself in the offseason,'' Bowen said. "And I knew he was doing that with rehab.''

"He hasn't missed a beat and I see all the things I saw prior to the injury. I'm really optimistic about where he's at right now, and where he's going to go.''

Bowen loves it that Landry is flying all over the field, looking young and spry like he did before the ACL injury. 

"The first thing that probably is obvious is the speed, and the speed element. He plays the game at a high level, and the speed off the edge is going to benefit the guys inside and the guy on the other side,'' Bowen said. "I think the one thing that has always been huge for me with him is that he has always been a huge effort production player. He plays harder than anyone on our defense. He and Jeff, they are the standard for what it takes from a front guy in terms of effort. 

"A lot of his production is effort-based. He's been huge for us through the years, and he's saved us a lot through the years.''

Landry, like Key on the other side, is asked to do a lot in the Titans' defensive system. You need to be able to do a lot of things — and do it well. Bowen loves that about Landry, that he can ask and receive max effort in every situation.

"I think his versatility means a lot. You can ask him to do a lot of things just based on his skill set and he's smart enough and got a great football IQ to handle all of this,'' Bowen said. ''These offenses, they're going to find ways to double certain guys, or find ways to chip or whatever that might be. The more guys in protection, the less guys are getting out and that should all ultimately help our coverage and do some things with that.

"Just the rush focus in general, you get the speed off the edge and get guys working together running different games and different stunts in there, I think it has a huge impact. As we keep progressing, they aren't going to be able to say we've got this one handled, let's focus on these three, let's focus on these two. They're going to need to be able to account for everybody.''

Key, a former LSU star who's bounced around the NFL a little more than he ever would have imagined, is fitting in nicely with the Titans. He's grown up, too, and more of a veteran presence now. 

"From the first snap, if I see something, I'm talking to guys, telling them this is what I see and this is what I would do as far as a move,'' Key said. "Me talking, and leading, I think that's an Atlanta thing. I don't know any quiet people from Atlanta. Last year, I kind of stepped up as being a leader. The years before that, I wasn't ready to be a leader. But guys gravitate to me, and I like that.''

Key has been more of a third-down guy during most of career, and he's bounced around at different weights trying to fill all the right roles. He's a quick 240 now as an outside linebacker, but he says he's weighed as much as 285 before as a defensive end. 

New Titans linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, who played with Key in San Francisco two years ago, jumped into Key's press conference on Tuesday and teased him about remembered his ''belly hanging over his pants.'' He's cut now, and in great shape. He wants to be able to help on every down.

"I think people around the league know I can play on first and second down,'' Key said. "I mostly played third down when I started, but I know I can do it. I can set the edge, and now I'm able to showcase that more now. 

"There's a fighter in me, and I'm not going to stop. I'm working every day. It's all about the process. There was a process to get here, back then to get in the NFL. In the beginning, I didn't really expect the process. I do now.''