Tuesday is their first day back on the field for voluntary practices, but Monday was the first day back at school as the Bengals gathered for tests and physicals at Paul Brown Stadium.
Trey Hendrickson, their biggest free agent catch ever coming off a 13.5-sack season on the New Orleans edge, emerged from Day One in the facility as bubbly as he was when he inked the Bengals' record $60 million deal back in March on a day head coach Zac Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo welcomed four new defensive starters in one sitting.
Maybe it was because no one in the NFL had spring bonding last year. Or maybe it was because he had already made so many text connections the past two months. Or maybe because he finally got to try on the most recognizable helmet in the NFL.
Or maybe just a little bit of all that explained that strange sense of comfort despite being in a strange place. After all, this is the offseason the Bengals continued to change the face of their roster and there were a lot of different faces to feel at home.
"I'm in the crawling phases of being here, so I can already feel this is going to be a nice environment for me," Hendrickson said after the day was over. "It's almost like I've been here for a year. The real shock that made it real was having that personalized name plate inside my helmet that's a Bengals helmet."
Hendrickson says he spent some time with his old strong safety from the Saints, Vonn Bell, and while Bell talked up the team he also recommended some places to eat for Hendrickson and his wife. On Monday morning Hendrickson squeezed in a workout with his nose tackle D.J. Reader and discovered they were both home-schooled.
"That was a fun fact I found out today," Hendrickson said. "I can't say enough about Lou and Zac for what they've done for making such a locker room. Everyone was really nice. It felt special. A lot of congratulations. A lot of 'Glad to Have You Heres.' It was very welcoming on the team side."
But Hendrickson knows the first day of school is always followed by tests ("Tomorrow it's off to work,") and one assignment he wants to show-and-tell is that he's just as effective and diligent about stopping the run.
"I haven't been told that in a while," said Hendrickson of his ability to set the edge in the run, something the Bengals believe he is an upgrade over what transpired last season. "I firmly believe in being a complete end and it's just that everybody gets hung up on the stats. I do take a lot of pride in beating one-on-one, whether it's a run block or a pass block."
Back in what feels like his old school, Hendrickson is getting a familiar feeling.
"There's nothing like an NFL locker room. We didn't have OTAs last year as a league. This is something you cherish. You cherish these days," Hendrickson said. "The switch is going to get flicked here soon and it's going to be game on."