Jurassic Nightmare: Trey “T-Rex” Hendrickson Redefines Edge for Saints’ Defense

Photo Credit: Phillip Petty III, JRNOLA

A young but very talented NFL edge pass-rusher who always seems to play with a chip on his shoulder, with something to prove. Always playing every snap of the football with a bit of an attitude or an edge, and in some of the more extreme cases: they also can appear to be “teetering on the edge” at times.

That’s actually quite an anomaly, but If you’re a long-time fan of the NFL or especially of the New Orleans Saints, then you already know the type.

Some gridiron fans certainly can remember the brash and cocky young man who became the prototype for what now is referred to as the modern-day NFL edge pass-rusher: former University of North Carolina consensus All-American defensive end/outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor ⁠— who famously was selected by the New York Giants and who under the guidance of their then-linebacker coach Bill Parcells, became the League’s unanimous selection as its 1981 Rookie Defensive Player of the Year.

And for the older Who Dat fans of the Black and Gold: how about the memories of a crafty but wise-beyond-his-years Saints defensive end/outside linebacker Rickey Jackson back during the 1984 season under then-head coach Bum Phillips (and before the term “edge rusher” was even used).

As they might recall, that was actually back when Jackson (who went on to become the greatest defensive player in Saints history) was a part of the “Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Defense” alongside then-fellow teammate and inside linebacker Dennis “Dirt” Winston (which was a few years before he became a member of the legendary  “Dome Patrol”).

Or, for the much-younger football fans who don’t totally get the dated and older references that were mentioned above: think of current Chicago Bears defensive end/edge rusher and the young man who many observers currently consider the most feared defensive player in the entire NFL ⁠— Chicago Bears defensive end/edge rusher Khalil Mack.

Now, of course, the hometown Saints have had All-Pro Cam Jordan with the team for the past 8 seasons, and he has become one of the League’s best pass-rushers from his left defensive end spot. And even though he’s considered more of a classic straight-ahead. “hand in the dirt” type of pass rusher, the versatile Jordan can stand up and rush the QB from the outside edge.

Unfortunately, for the past few seasons, the Saints’ defense has very notably lacked a player that can serve as a complementary player to Jordan on the opposite edge at the right defensive end spot.

That’s what then prompted the team to take what some considered to be a gamble last year and trade away their #1 pick in this year’s recently-completed Draft to the Green Bay Packers for the opportunity to move up in the 2018 NFL Draft and get current 2nd-year defensive end Marcus Davenport.


However, there are those who feel that the Saints might have made a mistake by taking the talented but raw Davenport, who now in his 2nd season with the team has turned out to be a slight disappointment up to this point of his young career thus far.

But as it turns out, perhaps the Saints had their man to be the “complement” to Jordan on the opposite outside edge position after all, in 3rd-year defensive end Trey “T-Rex” Hendrickson.

Never was that more evident than last weekend during the Saints’ 34-25 opening Pre-Season loss at home to the Minnesota Vikings, when the starting defensive line as a whole, for the most part, failed to generate much pressure and displayed a severe lack of a pass rush.

Without Jordan in the lineup during the first half of last Friday Night’s game, the Saints’ defensive line appeared to struggle with generating any pressure against Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. Eventually, It wasn’t until Hendrickson (who drew the start in place of Jordan at the left defensive end spot) got going, that anyone else along the D-Line had shown any notable signs of aggressiveness or consistent pressure off of the outside edge.

Hendrickson ended up just barely missing out on making a sack on backup Vikings QB Sean Mannion, who subsequently was hit hard and driven down to the turf right before he was able to complete an 18-yard touchdown pass to back-up Vikings WR Olabisi Johnson.

It was that play that left an impression on both coaches and teammates alike; and for the 24-year-old Orlando, Florida native, it was a bit of vindication for a young man who very sparingly at times since the team drafted him over two and a half years ago, has been given a full opportunity to do what is that he does best: sack quarterbacks.

Perhaps that lack of opportunity during his first two seasons with the team — “T-Rex” has only played a grand total of 501 snaps and has only managed to record 2 sacks in his time thus far with the franchise — is what has led recently to Hendrickson’s increased intensity during Training Camp.

Yesterday, in what was the second time in the past two weeks, Hendrickson got into a scuffle with a member of the team’s offensive unit; this time with 4th string center Marcus Henry before it was quickly broken up by teammates. The two men then appeared to let any lingering animosity go afterward.

Yesterday’s brief skirmish came on the heels of a fracas 2 weeks ago, when Hendrickson and rookie tight end Alize Mack exchanged a series of punches at each other before being separated by their teammates. In that battle, it was 2nd-year defensive end Marcus Davenport who was the one that had to keep them separated to prevent an all-out brawl.

Hendrickson understandably has a reason to be upset, given that he was one of the very few Saints defenders that wound up being singled out for praise for that performance of his against the Vikings; especially when you consider the unit yielded a whopping 8.0 yards per play to the Vikings offense.

Hendrickson, along with veteran defensive end/tackle Mario Edwards, Jr. were the only two Saints D-linemen that were able to generate the most consistent pressure out of all the entire unit that night, so to say he might have had a bit of an attitude or a slight “chip on his shoulder” a few days later (and once again yesterday). would be an understatement.

And when the Saints fly out west tomorrow morning for the Southern California suburb of Costa Mesa (just outside of Los Angeles) to face their upcoming preseason opponent the Chargers in a pair of scheduled scrimmages, they might have to figuratively tie down the young man who, at 6-foot-4, 270-pounds, doesn’t quite resemble the “prototypical” NFL edge rusher.

As a matter of fact, underestimating him or selling him short might be what actually works to his advantage.

Since he arrived in New Orleans, the Saints’ defensive coaching staff  been impressed with Hendrickson; the organization selected him from Florida Atlantic University with their last one of three 3rd Round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, in the very same and now-famous Saints draft class that yielded current starters Marshon Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, and Ryan Ramcyzk.

Hendrickson was not only considered the school’s best pass rusher, but also their greatest defensive player in the football program’s entire history. After his four-year career, he left Boca Raton as the Owls’ all-time leader in sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hurries and forced fumbles. Hendrickson twice earned All-Conference USA honors and was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2016.

So it goes without saying that Saints and Director of College Scouting Jeff Ireland knew exactly what he and the Saints organization were getting at that time, with the selection of Hendrickson.

As it was, Hendrickson didn’t earn his starting role until very early on during his sophomore year; but in the subsequent 32 games that he did end up starting after winning the job, he posted an impressive stat total of 28 sacks, a whopping 39.5 tackles for loss, and forced seven fumbles. Hendrickson finished as FAU’s all-time leader in tackles for loss, QB sacks, forced fumbles and quarterback hurries.

And despite having played at a “small school” just as the previously-mentioned Davenport, Hendrickson has continually shown good natural burst coming off of the outside edge along with great quickness for that position since his arrival in New Orleans.

As noted previously by The AthleticNOLA Saints film analyst Deuce Windham, Hendrickson has been working in the past to perfect a “forklift move” where he utilized his speed coming off the outside edge; to slap on the outside hand of the opponent’s offensive left tackle and then drive it up in the air — which forces the offensive tackle to “re-set” his position, but which allows Hendrickson to successfully convert “speed to power” and make the play.

Perhaps now, as he enters his 3rd season in the NFL, he’ll have more opportunities to utilize it.

While he’s not what you’d consider a “great athlete” by any means (he only runs a 4.65 40-yard dash), he definitely qualifies as a ‘pure’ pass rusher (in the classic sense) with a “high motor” who can create a whole ton of pressure — something that other than the very obvious and notable exception of Cam Jordan, the Saints haven’t been able to do very much of in recent seasons.

“T-Rex”, in his very own unique and distinctive way, is redefining the term ‘edge’ for the Saints defense. And with a big-time chip on his shoulder and a bit of an attitude along the way.

Even if he doesn’t quite fit, the prototype.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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