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Fast And Furious: How Bengals' Trey Hendrickson Returns To New Orleans Inspiring His Mates As One of Decade's Top Sackers

Trey Hendrickson (right) with D-Line coach Marion Hobby at Thursday's practice.
Trey Hendrickson (right) with D-Line coach Marion Hobby at Thursday's practice.

Trey Hendrickson, who is really not a bad guy at all and is quite nice, actually, gave the impromptu coffee shop in strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese's office a cart to put everyone's mug. But he's not really a coffee guy, so when he sits down to talk life with the boys, he more than likely pours some Gatorade into his Florida Atlantic University cup.

Look, that's it. If you ever want to get a read on the ever-elusive No. 91, that's about as close as you're going to get to the Bengals Pro Bowl high energy sack ace out of a small school in his home state who does things just a little bit differently.

"I know the ins and outs of Trey. I know him," says strong safety Vonn Bell, his former Saints teammate who helped convince him to join and change the Bengals.

"He's got the biggest chip on his shoulder. A boulder. He comes from a small school. Overlooked. He knew he could compete with anybody. They say he doesn't have the attributes. You have to be six-six and all that. But this guy right here? He wrecks your game."

That's the idea Sunday in New Orleans (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) when Hendrickson rolls the boulder into the Caesars Superdome against the Saints team that told him with five games left in a 13.5-sack season that they weren't going to re-sign him.

As another old Saints teammate explained, don't get in his way.

"Competitive. Crazy as a demon," says Bengals cornerback Eli Apple. "I don't mean to say demon, but he really does go out there with that kind of mentality. He just goes hard. If you know him, you know he's crazy on the field. But people rarely talk about what a great leader he is."

BENGALS D-TACKLE B.J. HILL: "What makes him a great player is being a great teammate first ... he just gives his all each and every day to compete at a high level. I'd love to have him around for 20 years … You have to have that little switch to switch from football to off the field … He doesn't care what anybody else thinks. But he's great for us."

Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams, who has sparred with the relentless Hendrickson for two training camps, is looking forward to see what misery he'll unleash with his mouth and moxie.

"He can make it a really long day for a tackle. I get a lot of satisfaction watching him on Sundays because I know what he can do to them," Williams says. "His first couple of steps are unbelievable. Fast. You're in catch-up mode right off the bat. He knows how to exploit when tackles start to panic setting. Then the game just gets away and that's what happened against the Jets."

In his first camp with the team this summer, tight end Hayden Hurst went through a similar duel on the first day with Hendrickson, when they even exchanged some unpleasant names.

"We get along great now. I love Trey because I try to emulate that style of intensity," Hurst says. "Getting after people out on the field. Being quote unquote an a---hole to deal with. I think he prides himself on that. I know I do."

Nose tackle D.J. Reader mulls the stat. In the 2020s, only T.J. Watt (38.5) and Myles Garrett (31) have more sacks. Hendrickson and first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Aaron Donald are tied for third with 30.

("Great stat," says the other edge, Sam Hubbard. "You say names like that," says defensive line coach Marion Hobby, "they're among the best players in the league.")

"A little different. A really good guy, though. Solid," Reader says. "He just plays with a passion you rarely see. You rarely see people that fiery. He comes off as kind of pedestrian, but he's a really impressive athlete. He gets into it. He's like a cat, though. Man, he likes his stuff and only his stuff and he's not really trying to venture outside that."

We are talking to Hill near the ping-pong table Hendrickson bought for the locker room and Bell and Hurst at their lockers and Apple after practice and Williams in between therapy stints and Reader while he eats lunch because Hendrickson has politely declined to go in depth.

"Pretty simple," he'll tell you. "I'm about family, football, faith."

He showed all of that back in the spring when he didn't attend the voluntary workouts and chose to stay in Nashville with his wife of two years as she pursues her pharmacy doctorate at Lipscomb University.

"I feel like I developed a lot of things. I wanted to help her," Hendrickson said when he showed up for training camp. "I got better as a player and obviously a husband … Continuing to grow as a man is important to me … It was important to me to take care of her as much as she took care of me."

Even though he was away taking care of family and faith, he also grew in football.

"He's got a routine in the season and in the offseason," Boese says. "By the kind of shape he came back in and the levels that he had in the weight room, you can tell he was working his tail off.

"But that's been him his entire career and how he's progressed from year one and two to year five and six and how he's become one of the elite pass rushers in this league."


"He's a much bigger man than I thought. He's 6-4, 260 pounds. I don't think people realize he's that big and he's a naturally strong and gifted football player with a nice temperament. He's bigger, stronger and faster than I thought when I was watching off tape. You see him move on tape and you say, yeah, that's' how a little guy should move. Then he comes in at 260 pounds. That's a little different now. I bet you he could probably still dunk a basketball any old way he wants to. You see him box jump, wow. He's fun to coach. He's got big old hands and he doesn't cover them up. He plays old school. No gloves. He's throwing them things."

Hendrickson, who came into this season with 25.5 sacks in 28 games, has just 2.5 this season and he got them all in one game and was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week in last month's win over the Jets.

You know how Ja'Marr Chase over on offense has been blanketed with attention?

"That comes with the territory. He's getting more attention now," Hobby says.

"That's what we had to do in camp," Hurst says.

"We're just trying to find ways to get them off him," Hobby says. "These guys are pretty creative. Chipping with wide receivers. Running guys in motion. He's getting a lot of attention, but you have to be pleased with how hard he's playing."

Last Sunday night in Baltimore it seemed like he chased Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson all the way back to Louisville. He never got him, but he did have five pressures, Pro Football Focus said, with a hit and four hurries, as the Ravens appeared to tilt Jackson away from him.

The pressures and hits may not be sacks, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo thinks they're effective, too. Take his 61 quarterback take-downs in this decade. According to Pro Football Reference, only Watt has more. The Bengals felt Jackson got rid of the ball in this game quicker than at any time they've seen him.

"They better get rid of it," Hobby says.

There are no stats, however, on what Hendrickson kept telling Jackson after what looked to be every snap.

"Ain't no telling what he said," Hill says.

Probably something like, 'You better get rid of it."

APPLE: "We've got to get him more (sacks). He almost got him on that third down with a sack-strip."

Hurst probably has a good idea what was said.

"It was really just that first practice," Hurst says of camp.

"I love Trey's intensity. I think it's exactly what the position needs. We get along now, but it took a couple of practices to figure it out. Pushing, shoving. 'You're doing too much." Back and forth. Trying to figure it out.

"Two fiery players. That's how it goes. It's what this team needs. You have to have guys like that to pick us up in times when we need it to get rolling and get these guys fired up because I think we respond to it."

You begin to wonder if there are two of these guys. The guy who buys lounge chairs for all of the vet defensive linemen. And the guy who challenges MVPs.

Maybe not.

"He leads because he gets on you when you don't do your assignment," Apple says. "A great leader and they don't talk about it enough. He gets on you and he's got guys saying, 'I better get on my crap.'"

Free safety Jessie Bates III famously called Hendrickson's episodes of fury "Blackouts," because he acts like they never happen. Apple says it's almost like "he snaps."

Hill has to laugh when asked about a blackout moment he remembers.

"There's one every week," Hill says. "One every game."

Hobby doesn't mind. He knows he's got one of the decade's most prolific sackers and he believes a guy that knows when to call off the dogs in a game or practice.

"I'd rather have to say, 'Whoa ,' than 'Sic 'em,'" Hobby says.

He's got his guy.