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The Conversation With Trey Hendrickson: 'If you can agree with the man in the mirror, I think you're good'

DE Trey Hendrickson celebrates during the Bengals-Cardinals game in Week 5 of the 2023 season.
DE Trey Hendrickson celebrates during the Bengals-Cardinals game in Week 5 of the 2023 season.

During the bye week, Bengals Pro Bowl sacker Trey Hendrickson could be found virtually by himself at Paycor Stadium as he waited for his wife to get out of work each day. A good time for senior writer Geoff Hobson to sit down with one of the game's top pass rushers before he begins preparing for this week's mega matchup in San Francisco against 49ers left tackle Trent Williams.

(In the latest NFL Top 100 as voted by the players, Williams is 14th and Hendrickson No. 75.)

GH: So what the heck are you doing here? It's the bye week. Your wife is working and you're basically the only guy in the building. We're here in your favorite work hangout, the strength and conditioning office.

TH: I do love it here in Cincinnati. I enjoy the city and not just here for work. My wife and I, we're going to go to the zoo and hang out, kind of see a different side of the city and enjoy our time here. She got her doctorate in pharmacy in May and she'll have a little bit of free time towards the end of the week. We'll have a day or two to kind of relax.

As far as this week, sharpening the details. Get away from the football side. Not so much film, not so much breaking down opponents. Getting good recovery. Getting my feet back under me. Making sure I'm not on a plane. I'm actually using this week for benefit.

GH: You're like the fourth strength coach you're in this office so much. You even have a nameplate by the coffee machine.

TH: I've gotten pretty close to Joey (Boese), Garrett (Swanson), and Todd (Hunt)through this offseason. I spent the offseason training here. I can really feel the difference between previous years and now. I feel good and, like I said, this is the oldest (he turns 29 Dec. 5) I've ever been. So taking care of my body is really important to me at this point in my career. And I feel like there's a lot to look forward to in my game. I think there's a lot of potential. A lot of things I can correct and kind of talking football and talking life in here is a good thing.

GH: What about life do you guys talk about?

TH: Just the day-to-day. I'm in my third year of marriage. It's a constant, talking about the ins and outs of her work. They have all the ins on the nice date-night spots and things like that. They've been married a lot longer than I have. They're all good friends. The wives are friends too. Just all talking the same language. We're all former athletes and current athletes and strength coaches. We're all talking the language. I've got a lot in common with these guys.

GH: When you signed here in 2021 you told me it was the kind of town you were looking for and you liked the fact the team was family owned. Have you found what you hoped to find?

TH: It was easy because it was the truth. It's a blue-collar, hard-working city and I find a lot in common with that. I like to go to work. I like to get my hands dirty. I like to provide for my family, and I think that family-owned brand and a family-owned organization is a big deal. You directly see them in practice. You see them saying hello to everybody. They're hands on. They care. And, you know, that's special in a league that you may never even come across an owner, never let alone an owner watching every practice and then going inside and breaking it down. I think it's special.

GH: I'm sure when you signed your extension back in August you talked to (Bengals president) Mike Brown. Did he say anything that stuck with you?

TH: The thing that actually sticks with me is how they ask about my wife. How she was doing and how was her residency. They cared to know that information. That meant a lot more to me than the transactional negotiations and the day-to-day. There's a business side to the NFL, but the personal questions about my family were important to me.

GH: You must have a blue-collar background yourself. You must have seen it with your own folks, I imagine.

TH: My dad worked very hard in the mortgage business, and he took care of our family. Very hands-on. Very present as a father. Looking back, I was very blessed. A great man. He had a huge impact on my brother and I on what a man should look like. Always taking care of my mom and my older sister.

And then then my mom is a pre- K teacher, and I don't think there's greater service than teaching little kids. It's a really beautiful thing. She punches a lot of extra hours and never complains. To see that kind of work early in my life and the respect that I have for them, it's definitely carried over into my sister's life, my life and my brother's life.

GH: You were talking about the offseason and how good you feel now. Did you train any differently this offseason. Do you feel differently?

TH: The goal is to improve every offseason, right? Every football player in the offseason should have goals they want to get better on. There's always room for improvement. I feel that every player, even if you're an All-Pro, should still strive to be better that next year. And if you think you've made it, the train is going to continue going and it's your choice to get on or get off and mentally to stay locked in.

That's why I have Joey, Garrett, and Todd in here to steer me in the right direction. That has been very positive. I'm not one who burns out in the redundancy and discipline of life. I think showing up, doing your job, day in and day out, there's a lot of people that do that without having a choice and show up with a smile.

And I had no problem being here for more than 365 days. It's one of those things that I actually am very happy I did.

GH: Is there anything specifically you worked on this offseason?

TH: I always try to get stronger in the offseason. And faster. I think those are the two key things.

GH: How do you get faster?

TH: There are exercises that you can do. There are constantly things that you can improve. I think jumping is important. I think you should be flexible and be able to do those things. Basically, I worked on strength and conditioning.

GH: You have seven sacks right now in six games after having eight all last year. Why?

TH: There are two ways to look at it. There are some people who look at last year and just see the statistics and think I made this amazing jump. But I think there's a lot of consistency to my game. A lot of consistency to football. I think sacks are a team stat as much as it is an individual achievement. I can't do it on my own.

If there's a rush lane or a scramble lane, I think the quarterback can escape. So having a good D-line, Sam (Hubbard), DJ (Reader), B.J. (Hill), who have all elevated their game as well this offseason, rushing with them makes it a heck of a lot easier. And also the DBs communicating on a high level being a young group. I think they're excelling right now and I think that's why we're fourth in the league in sacks.

It's not just me that's producing. B.J. Sam. DJ's hitting the quarterback. Guys blitzing off the edge. Dax Hill. Affecting the quarterbacks, getting them off their routes, and Lou's (Anarumo) play- calling. So I would love to sit here and say it's a personal achievement. I think I'm very blessed to have a good surrounding cast.

GH: Do you look at QB hits more than sacks?

TH: No. Just being in his face. Making him uncomfortable, making him move his feet and not necessarily taking him to the ground every time because you do want to trend in the direction the game is going and that's protect the quarterback once the ball is thrown.

GH: You've got 29 sacks in 37 Bengals games. You broke out once you came here from New Orleans with back-to-back-to-back big seasons. Is it something about the scheme? The coaching? Why have you blossomed here?

TH: I credit a lot of my success to my faith. I'm very thankful for my wife and everything that she does bring to my faith. Biblically, I want to be a better man because of my wife and I'm very blessed to do what I love and do it at a high level. So I attribute most of my success to my faith and the God given opportunity I've been given and being prepared for that opportunity. It's something I'm very humbled by.

But I think there are a lot of games that I should have had sacks and I didn't and it's those one steps that are the things that keep me wanting to get stronger, get faster. And get to the quarterback every year.

GH: To me, that's the key to you. You aren't looking at the 29 sacks. You're thinking about the sacks that might have been but weren't because of inches and split seconds.

TH: Like I said, improving should be a constant in everybody's mind. To be able to affect the quarterback is what's important and helps win games.

GH: What do you think when you see those stats? You and Myles Garrett are the only defensive ends of this decade to have at least 40 sacks. Fourth most sacks of all players in the 2020s.

TH: I haven't really looked at all the stats. That's what you're good at. One of those things, I think is winning games. If I can help in any way and I think that's affecting the quarterback and obviously I'm trying to improve on playing the run a little stronger as well, inspired by the best run-stopper in Sam Hubbard.

GH: You've won a division title almost every year you've played. You don't know anything different.

TH: I think the next game is the most important thing to take us to where we want to go.

GH: To me, it seems there are two Trey Hendricksons. The Trey Hendrickson of the bye week, who sits down for a good, long interview. But there's also the Trey Hendrickson of game week. He gives off the vibe like, don't go near me. Would you agree?

TH: Not the same guy. If I want to partake in some things, talking about statistics, talking about personal accolades talking about kind of pats on the back, those aren't things that excite me. I think I'm more excited about the opportunity to play a good San Francisco team and what that's going to look like.

I can prepare this bye week as best I can to have an impact against one of the best left tackles in the league if not the best in Trent Williams. I think if you ever look behind you, you're never going to go where you want to go. Forward.

So I really couldn't care less if I had a good season two years ago. I couldn't care less if people consider it a down season last year and I couldn't care less if people think I'm trending up this year. All that stuff is irrelevant. I think the next step is the most important one and I look forward to it.

GH: You're not a media guy. There's this impression, 'He's such an intense guy, he's not talking.'

TH: I'm very thankful for that. I'm not that intense. But anything to get me out of an interview, I think I'll take it.

GH: Is the blackout thing overdone? You know, where you supposedly go off on somebody on the field, but can't remember it later?

TH: I don't really know where it started.

GH: I think Jessie (Bates III) said something about your first training camp here.

TH: A credit to Jessie. He's a great guy and he's having a very successful season as well. I'm proud of him and he's done a great job providing for his family. I love that dude. Yeah, it's his comment. It can stick around.

GH: The guy on the field, is he different? He seems to be different than this guy I'm talking to.

TH: I think it's how you approach the game. I think it's a violent sport. Especially the defensive line position, offensive line position. You need to not only do your job, but do it intensely and set edges strong so they have good run fits and then rushing the passer needs to be intense as well. There's a time and a place for that intensity and I think in the real world, there's no place for it. So I think it's a pretty easy to transition to know where your feet are. And it's a very relaxing environment in the real world.

GH: Where did you get your intensity?

TH: I think I've played football for over 15 years now and played on the defensive line for almost all 15 years. So that intensity comes with, I think, the game of football. There are some people that can wake up and just roll out of bed and play and I just want to know at the end of the day, I gave it my all, 100% of my emotion, 100% of my effort, and leave it on the table and let the chips fall.

That's when I can honestly look back on last year and say I gave it my all, and if eight sacks is what I got, then that's the best I could have done. And this year, it's like you're saying, is a good season. If you can agree with the man in the mirror, I think you're good.

GH: Does that come from your upbringing or your faith?

TH: I think it's a combination of everything. I was brought up in faith, so it's something that's always constantly been there. You don't just serve your boss in the real world.

I have a heavenly father I answer to as well, so I give him my all for him.

GH: Have you been a Christian your whole life?

TH: Born and raised. I think it's every child's choice to accept it for their own and my parents did a good job of telling me that and I made that choice for myself. And so did my brother and sister.

GH: Any example where that has helped you get through it?

TH: I think there's a lot of adversity in life and I think there's a strong calling spiritually for everybody in tough times and how people deal with those times is their own personal choices. I rely on Jesus Christ and, like I said, it's a personal decision, a personal choice, and a personal relationship.

GH: Where's a good date night?

TH: Jeff Ruby's seems to be the great one downtown at the new location. It's been a really special spot. They're really top of the line. I do enjoy that.

GH: Anywhere else?

TH: Always walk the zoo. That's a good date. The Cincinnati Zoo is a great little lap.

GH: What makes Trent Williams so good?

TH: He's probably one of the more athletic tackles and also one of the most physically dominant tackles in the league and that combo makes him very vicious. He's high level for a long time.

GH: How many times have you gone against Williams?

TH: Three or four times. I flush it, so that's for you to dig up.

(In three games against Williams' Commanders and 49ers, Hendrickson's teams are 2-1 and according to Pro Football Focus, he has a sack, two QB hits, and five hurries in those games. In those same games, PFF credits Williams for allowing three hits and three hurries.)

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