In the first 3 padded practices of Saints Training Camp so far, no one particular player has emerged to become a "favorite" as of yet to win the battle of the edge pass rusher / defensive end position on the side opposite of All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan.
And with the team now only 9 days away from their first Pre-Season game at Cleveland against the Browns on August 10th, it's a safe bet to assume that it probably won't be until that night at the very earliest --- that any one of the 4 men who are currently competing for the job, will be able to distinguish themselves and pull ahead in the race to become the new starter in that role.
With the team practicing while wearing full pads almost every day of Camp now, it at least has allowed the Saints coaching staff to eliminate any gray areas that there may have been during the evaluation process up until this point, with the team having practiced all off-season in merely nothing but helmets, t-shirts, and a pair of shorts.
Practicing in pads for the last few days has provided the staff with a much better opportunity to see if a player is actually going to make plays (or not), instead of simply just trying to guess what he would or wouldn't have done during simulated situations in recent practices where no hitting for the past several months, had been allowed.
However, there's nothing more thorough in the evaluation process than seeing players perform while they're engaged in the "heat of battle" --- since it provides coaches with the most obvious and decisive way to ultimately determine the level at which players are performing, that's created in an actual game situation itself.
For all of the players that are on the team's current 90-man roster, it's the Pre-Season where each one of them will get that first real chance to distinguish themselves and stand out to the Saints coaching staff, as they try to determine which of the 53 men will comprise the final roster that will begin the regular season next month.
And one player who seems to be have slowly been building in the past few days towards that first opportunity next week at Cleveland, is rookie defensive end and 3rd Round draft pick Trey Hendrickson.
New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill noted yesterday that Hendrickson got some reps on the inside with the first-team defense in a substitution package. He appeared to be effective at the spot, and in a one-on-one drill, he used a spin move to beat 3rd-year veteran left guard Andrus Peat.
Peat was eventually able to redeem himself by successfully holding off Hendrickson on the next two plays, but it was still an indication that Hendrickson has been making notable progress with each subsequent practice.
Watch rookie Trey Hendrickson(91) get to Brees here pic.twitter.com/1iaSzqFkS8
— Amos Morale III (@Amos_MoraleIII) July 31, 2017
For Hendrickson, it was the 2nd consecutive impressive showing in back-to-back days for the 22-year old Orlando, Florida native, who was the 103rd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft from Florida Atlantic University.
The 6-foot-4, 271 pound Hendrickson is more than capable of winning the edge rusher / defensive end competition, given his accomplishments at Florida Atlantic; where he 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.
Hendrickson tallied 125 tackles, 29.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and 7 forced fumbles at Florida Atlantic, but it was his performance in January at the East-West Shrine Game, the annual college all-star game held every year in St. Petersburg, Florida, that firmly put him "on the map" for Saints scouts.
Hendrickson turned heads during the week of practice in St. Petersburg, before he was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player after the game. He registered two tackles, including a sack, and a forced fumble.
A strong NFL Combine the following month in Indianapolis, only boosted his draft stock even higher. Hendrickson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds, which was 7th-best among defensive linemen and just 0.01 seconds behind 2017 #1 overall top pick Myles Garrett, who the Saints will see next Thursday Night at Cleveland.
At the moment, Hendrickson is engaged in a 4-man battle with veteran defensive ends Alex Okafor and Hau'oli Kikaha and fellow rookie Al-Quadin Muhammad, to see just who will emerge as the new starter on the opposite side of Jordan.
All 4 of them have had their share of impressive moments thus far, although none of them have stood out over one another. A good showing next Thursday Night at Cleveland could be what gives Hendrickson a slight edge in the coaches' evaluation process, in the upcoming weeks ahead.
After practice the other day, Saints head coach Sean Payton was asked if Hendrickson could possibly even see action on the interior of the D-Line, given his size and agility.
QUESTION: Do you see Trey Hendrickson as someone who can play inside and outside on the defensive line?
Payton: “Right now, he’s working on the outside. There may be a role on an inside sub-rush. We’re working him at defensive end. We’ll take a peek at a handful of those guys, when it comes to the nickel rushes and how they handle it inside against the guards and center.”
As we saw yesterday, it would appear that Hendrickson is more than capable of bringing "heat" off the outside edge in nickel pass rush situations, and given the spin move that he was able to beat Peat with, has no problem getting past bigger and presumably more powerful guards.
But doing it in practice and doing it live during an actual game, are two entirely different things --- especially for a rookie who is getting his first true taste of experiencing life at the professional level, as a brand new arrival to the sport of football's ultimate pinnacle of success: playing in the NFL.
And yet, playing in the actual games themselves is where Hendrickson appears to shine the brightest.
Next Thursday Night will be the Saints' 1st of 4 Pre-Season games, starting at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium against the Browns, and in front of the rabid Browns fan-base known as "The Dawg Pound".
It will be the site where Hendrickson will once again have another opportunity to perform well in a game situation, and hopefully make a lasting impression on the Saints coaching staff.
And if the past is truly an indicator of potential future achievements, then it might be safe to say that at this time next Thursday Night --- Saints rookie Trey Hendickson will be shining brightly, on the shore of Lake Erie......