Defensive end has become a headline position for the New Orleans Saints.
Cameron Jordan might be better than ever. Alex Okafor’s potential is a vaulted ceiling as long as the foundation remains intact. First-round pick Marcus Davenport commands a spotlight whether he’s on the field or off.
Better not forget about Trey.
A third-round pick out of Florida Atlantic in the historic draft class the Saints put together last season, Hendrickson is coming off of a rookie season that looked a little more typical than his classmates’ debut performances.
Hendrickson recorded 13 tackles, two sacks, five quarterback hits, two tackles-for-loss and a pair of batted passes in 282 snaps, even though there were four games in which he didn’t play a defensive snap due to injury.
What he did show was enough to catch the attention of the All-Pro he plays behind.
“He is probably the most exciting in my mind, in terms of how he is going to progress this year,” Jordan said.
Hendrickson, offered a chance to play extra snaps during this training camp as Jordan eases his way back from offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his foot, has been a force on the practice field.
Always a high-effort player, Hendrickson appears poised to make the second-year jump a lot of players make after their rookie season.
“You feel him,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “There is a physical presence to him. It is not necessarily the feistiness, it is how a player plays between the whistles.”
By virtue of his motor, Hendrickson always had a presence to him on the practice field.
A season of NFL football has given him a body better capable of taking advantage of all that effort.
“He is stronger,” Payton said. “Fortunately, right now he is healthy.”
Health was Hendrickson’s biggest issue as a rookie.
A training-camp injury slowed his growth before the season opener, and a knee injury suffered against Atlanta cost Hendrickson the final three games of the year. In between those two injuries, Hendrickson dealt with a bunch of nagging injuries.
Being fully healthy throughout this camp has allowed Hendrickson to stack lessons on top of each other, and on top of all of the lessons he learned as a rookie.
“I’m just trying to absorb as much information as possible,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson’s work ethic fits well with defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen, a stickler for the details who has helped the rookie refine all aspects of his technique.
Hendrickson believes that attention to detail can help him take the next step.
“A heightened focus on the little things,” Hendrickson said. “The details are what separates people in this league.”
The results have been obvious.
Hendrickson has two tackles and two quarterback hits in the preseason, but he’s been a daily force in practice. Playing mostly on the left side — Jordan’s natural spot — Hendrickson has caught the eye of the Defensive Player of the Year candidate in front of him.
“He doesn’t have that skewed perception of just seeing a man in front of him now,” Jordan said. “Now he is broadening that vision, he is able to take in what motion is (happening) and what the backfield looks like. He is growing nicely.”
With Jordan, Okafor and Davenport all competing for snaps and a long list of other edge rushers trying to make the roster, Hendrickson’s role in the rotation remains to be seen.
But that might not matter.
Hendrickson, Okafor and Jordan can all rush from the inside, and the NFL’s best defensive lines can send wave after wave of pass rushers at a quarterback without missing a beat.
The way Hendrickson’s been playing in camp, the Saints might have another on their hands.
Hendrickson twice denied Arizona Cardinals star running back David Johnson in short-yardage situations last night, showing the combination of snap anticipation, dynamic first step, and good technique to shed a block and meet Johnson behind the line of scrimmage.
And while the sacks haven’t come yet, they will. Hendrickson has just outplayed most tackles set up against him through that combination of athleticism and practiced technique. We saw some hints of this last year when he was a rookie:
It’s great to see Hendrickson hasn’t just entered 2018 how he left it, he’s grown and developed. Check out how he beats the right tackle in this clip with a similar move, but manages to run a tighter arc to the QB. If Bortles were throwing to his right instead of his left, this is very likely a sack.
So yeah, get excited for the Trey Hendrickson experience. With Davenport and Okafor returning to action on different time-tables, Hendrickson looks up to the task of holding things down until the Saints are ready to field a full stable of pass rushers.