This is why the Bengals love Pro Bowl sacker Trey Hendrickson and why he's been so synonymous with their success the past two seasons and why they extended his contract for another year this week and is here through 2025 to continue one of the NFL's most successful decades.
He knows exactly where he stands among the NFL's elite pass rushers. Tell him he has the fourth most sacks of the 2020s and he'll ask you who is ahead of him.
By the time you run past Myles Garrett's 44, T.J. Watt's 43 and Hasaan Reddick's 39.5 and get to his 35.5, he's smiling with a lethal competitive edge.
"Maybe I am looking at it, but you know I'm not going to tell you," Hendrickson said after Thursday's practice. "I know pretty much every good rusher and their plans. I try to study those guys. They're the best for a reason."
Hendrickson probably knows their salaries down to their decimal point, too, and that's what makes him one of the best.
"He brings a lot of intensity. He pushes me," said Sam Hubbard, his Bash brother on the other edge. "We're very competitive. Coming in every day with a guy that's going to push you to do your best, it makes you a better player. Walking in here and having no competition makes you stagnant and he continues to push me to be a better player every day."
Hendrickson talked about his love of the organization Thursday. This is why the Bengals love him back.
Take that first scrum of training camp, which, by the way, already seems to be a century ago. On Wednesday's second snap, Hendrickson and his rival from that long ago AFC title game of last January, new left tackle Orlando Brown, did enough damage that Hendrickson's bloody neck emerged from what looked to be some bad '70s slasher movie.
"It's all good. It was more of the guys pulling me back," Hendrickson said. "Just a dog on a leash. It happens. It definitely looks more gruesome. There was a little bit of shock and awe when I came home to my wife. Everything took care of itself. There was nothing serious. I love to compete. I love the back-and-forth, so it was fun getting into it with him. On to the next. We've had multiple conversations. The end goal is to get us better and we're probably going to have to limit those altercations."
Brown apologized soon after, but no one was surprised Hendrickson was in the first scuffle. He makes no bones about his seemingly bottomless vat of moods. His old teammate, Jessie Bates III, would talk in wonderment about what Hendrickson called his "black-outs," moments on the field he is somebody else and then can't remember.
And when Brown talked about his own Pro Bowl "black-outs," Wednesday, well, this is how you get better.
"I think the max is one on offense and one on defense, so I think we've hit our max," Hendrickson said with a smile. "It was great. Anytime we're competing at the highest level, things like that are going to happen. It's just on to the next day and I do appreciate those things.
"He's my teammate. Nothing we're more focused on than making the Bengals the best team. I think you can ask him the same thing. He's a Bengal. I think he's happy to be a Bengal. There's a lot of things that go into that. We're just looking forward to a good season, going hard against each other and making each other better."
Hendrickson is not only studying the Watts and Garretts, but also the Orlando Browns.
"I think he's obviously one of the best to do it at left tackle," Hendrickson said. "You just don't see guys with that kind of length and athletic ability around. He's very special. He's going to help me achieve goals that I want to achieve and through that there is going to be a lot of competitive fire."
Hendrickson, 28, fans his fire from every angle. He rang up 13.5 sacks for the Saints to start the decade and couldn't get re-signed.
"I leave all the voting, critiquing, you go back five years and you can read some critics that I wouldn't be in the league any more if it was all true," Hendrickson said. "That's the thing, I just stayed out of it. I still stay out of it. I don't put any kind of goals or numbers on my plate. I play as hard as I can for as long as I can to help the team win."
He probably already knows this, though According to Pro Football Reference, he's got 76 quarterback knockdowns in the 2020s, right there with Garrett (77) and Maxx Crosby (79) and behind Watt's 92 and Nick Bosa's 81. That's the stat for him.
"Sack stats can be misleading. It's all about pressuring the quarterback," Hendrickson said. "I'm a firm believer in beating blocks, getting to the quarterback, getting him off his game. There are a couple of throws (last year) that didn't result in sacks, but they were big plays. And there were some plays I got a sack that I attribute to the DBs. It's a team game."
Which is why they did the deal.
View photos from day 2 of Bengals Training Camp 2023.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: WR Ja'Marr Chase.
Chase, the two-time Pro Bowl Energizer Bunny, is another guy who quietly showed up in midseason form for his third NFL season. Before quarterback Joe Burrow's calf injury sucked out whatever air was left from the feels-like-100-degrees practice on Thursday, Chase couldn't sit down. First, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons called him over to catch some punts. Then he caught a Burrow bullet on the sidelines with cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt plastered on him in team drills. Then he shot by CTB on a pitch-and-catch go ball.
Remember that drop-filled first camp? That's all it was, if anyone can remember it.
"I'm a lot more confident than I was," Chase said after practice. "The coaches are letting me be free out there to try anything. I feel a lot more confident than when I first came in."
His says his strength has always been his strength and this is a guy that can pick up 290 pounds off the floor. That's how he won the sideline chicken fight with Taylor-Britt.
"They always think I'm pushing off," Chase said. "But it's just the regular strength of my elbows."
The punt returner is either going to be rookie wide receiver Charlie Jones or incumbent Trent Taylor. But Simmons says they've had discussions about Chase getting some catches in. Maybe a nice change-of-pace-in-a-blue-moon option. Chase says he'd like to try it.
He hasn't returned a punt in a game since high school ("I took two back on the film") and hasn't practiced it since early in his career at LSU. But he's eager.
"They told Derek Stingley to go out there and that was my last time doing punt," Chase said.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Chase's Go Ball.
Chase and Taylor-Britt, the second-year cornerback who had no training camp as a rookie, have a thing going on.
"He's been working a lot of tight press on me. Giving me good looks with hands on me, moving his feet. On that play, he just tried to jam me and missed me," Chase said. "Good instincts by me on that play.
"Cam's a great player. He's one of the best corners that's young. He's very physical. Not too many corners are like that. Once he learns how to use his speed and more technique, I think he'll be more dominant."
After he let Chase slither off the line of scrimmage and get deep fast, Taylor-Britt came back to the sidelines greeted by cornerbacks coach Charles Burks. The clinic was already on.
"I think I tried to jump the cadence of Joe and (Chase) just kind of slipped off me. My hand literally slipped off his shoulder," Taylor-Britt said. "I have to stay at the top. Being aggressive, but also trying to be patient."
He says he's such a different player now than a year ago and why not? His first NFL starts last season coincided with the longest winning streak in Bengals history. His first pick came in an AFC Divisional.
"A lot of it is going up against these guys every day. You can't help but get better," Taylor-Britt said.
He calls Chase, "The best in the business," and they're pressing each other.
"Me and Ja'Marr are really going at it, looking to get the best out of each other," Taylor-Britt said. "When he needs help with the press, I'm looking to press and we work it."
Like that out pattern. CTB was all over it. Have to look at the film to see if Chase was in-bounds.
"He was out, but great ball," Taylor-Britt said. "I just wanted to play through the play."
Chase: "I don't know if he tried to jump me again, but I beat him at the line. Me and Cam are messing with each other. So we're doing a lot of different things to get each other better. We're trying different stuff on each other. I just caught him off guard."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Hendrickson on head coach Zac Taylor's camp:
"I don't think anybody carries anything from the field into the locker room. I think that speaks a lot of Zac as a head coach. It's a competitive environment and the only way we're going to get better is giving it our all."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: One thing that showed up Thursday is just how fast some of these new cornerbacks are. Second-rounder DJ Turner had a nice day Thursday. A day after he ranged to the sideline to break up a pass with that scouting combine-best 40-yard dash, he got a hand on two straight passes to wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter II as he out-leveraged him on the sideline. He's listed as 5-11, but plays like he's 6-1 …
Sidney Jones IV, 27, the free agent cornerback in his sixth season, also was around the ball, slapping away one over the middle headed to wide receiver Trenton Irwin. He also took away Chase on a go ball and forced Burrow to go elsewhere …
As promised, Jackson Carman took the first-team reps at right tackle Thursday after Jonah Williams did on Wednesday. It's a competition, but they're also making sure Williams is OK after surgery for a dislocated kneecap …