Trey Hendrickson hopes to 'show out' when Saints need him most

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METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' 2017 draft class is already one for the ages. But defensive end Trey Hendrickson is hoping it will one day be remembered for six members instead of just five.

The third-round pick out of Florida Atlantic hasn’t caught on as quickly as classmates Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, Alvin Kamara and Alex Anzalone.

In fact, Hendrickson’s snap count dropped from 269 as a rookie to 132 last season and his sack total dropped from two to zero. He was a healthy inactive for all but five regular-season games and one playoff game.

But the 6-foot-4, 270-pounder, who has always been known for his relentless motor on the practice field, sure looks like a guy who is determined to make things work in Year 3.

“I wasn’t gonna leave anything in doubt this year,” said Hendrickson, who has arguably been the defensive MVP of Saints training camp and the preseason so far while working behind starters Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport.

If this does become one of those “better late than never” stories, well, the timing will actually be ideal for the Saints.

Their pass rush might be their biggest question mark heading into the 2019 season, because standout defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is still recovering from the torn Achilles he suffered in January and former starting DE Alex Okafor is now in Kansas City.

Davenport, a first-round pick last year, is coming along after recovering from last year's toe injury -- though he admittedly needs to keep working on his consistency and his eyes, above all else. But the Saints still desperately need more young players to emerge in both spots.

And so far, it looks like both Hendrickson and fourth-year defensive tackle David Onyemata are on the right track.

“He’s had a good camp,” coach Sean Payton said of Hendrickson, whom he has praised multiple times this summer while always mentioning his improved size and strength.

“Last year I thought his weight got a little light. And this year he’s playing a little stronger, a little heavier,” said Payton, who also credited Hendrickson for playing “with great energy and effort.”

The coaches talked to Hendrickson about bulking up this offseason. And defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen credited him for taking the advice to heart. Hendrickson is only about 5 pounds heavier than when he played at 265 last season -- but he also said, “This is the strongest I’ve been.”

“My confidence has always been the same, but the weight helps,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve improved every year, every offseason. And when the opportunity comes, I’m excited to show out.”

Hendrickson, 24, has also shown signs of maturity.

That relentless motor is one of his greatest attributes -- which has led to a lot of those “he goes 100 miles per hour all the time” clich├ęs when people praise him. (Actually, Jordan said he goes “115 percent.”)

And Hendrickson said he believes “it’s good to have a mean streak in football,” even if that makes him old school, adding that “hard effort and hard work outclasses talent sometimes.”

But Hendrickson also earned a bit of a negative reputation as a “tempo violator” early in his career for things like going full speed during walk-throughs and adding verbal jabs after reps. It’s not uncommon to see him in the middle of the occasional practice scuffle.

“Trey has matured a lot. He realizes, ‘I don’t have to do all this,’ and he has really channeled that aggressiveness in the right way,” said former Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief, who now serves as the team’s radio play-by-play announcer. “The reality is that a lot of guys want to make an impression on every play, regardless of the speed. But bull-rushing in a walk-through is not the same thing as working hard.

“He’s always gonna have a little bit of an attitude, an edge. But that’s good -- especially at that position.”

At the same time, Hendrickson also said he has improved the mental part of his game through two-plus years of repetitions. And he has learned a lot from “playing around greatness like Cam [Jordan] -- just kind of picking up on the little things over time.”

Strief also thinks Hendrickson has benefited greatly from working with Nielsen, learning to use his power to set up his speed, among other improvements.

“His focus has been on what we’re asking -- the exact details of what we’re asking him to do. And then he’s just playing with great speed. And that’s what you’re seeing out there,” said Nielsen, who said the biggest difference of all with Hendrickson has been the most obvious one.

“Look, I think it’s Year 3,” Nielsen said. “Third year playing -- that makes a big difference.”