For Saints fans that have been wondering why they haven't been seeing more of 3rd year veteran defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha in the Saints sub-rush packages behind starting defensive ends / edge rushers Cam Jordan and Alex Okafor, the answer can actually be given in pretty simple but rather blunt terms: someone is TAKING his job away from him.
Kiakaha has actually played well (2 sacks so far) in his limited role as one of the back-ups at the right defensive end position behind Okafor, but has been listed as inactive for the past 2 games.
But for Saints fans that have been wondering,: no — Kikaha hasn't re-injured his surgically repaired knee for a 4th time — but he has been surpassed on the current depth chart.
Kikaha was among the Saints' seven inactive players for this past Sunday's 20-12 win over Chicago, which left the Saints with just 3 active defensive ends playing in the game: Jordan, Okafor, and the young man that has surpassed him — rookie defensive end / edge pass rusher and 2017 3rd Round draft pick Trey Hendrickson.
As noted by New Orleans Advocate beat writer Joel A, Erickson yesterday, Hendrickson is earning more and more playing time.
Hendrickson took 32 snaps against the Bears, a season-high for him, and came away with his 2nd sack since essentially taking over as the primary back-up in the Saints sub-rush defensive end packages behind Jordan and Okafor.
Hendrickson has rewarded the Saints' defensive coaching staff's faith in him by making the most of his opportunities when he has been inserted into the line-up.
Through 6 games, Hendrickson has the 2 sacks to go along with 9 total tackles (4 solo, 5 assisted), 2 passes defensed / batted down, and a forced fumble.
As noted by Canal Street Chronicles lead football analyst Deuce Windham: only 3 other NFL rookie pass rushers (Myles Garrett, Cleveland; Derek Barnett, Philadelphia; and T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh) drafted in the 3rd Round or earlier from this past April's 2017 NFL Draft, have had more sacks.
With #Saints Trey "T-Rex" Hendrickson's sack, now only 3 players from RD 1-3 2017 draft have more sacks. (Garrrett 4, Barnett 2.5, Watt 4)
— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) October 29, 2017
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) October 29, 2017
Hendrickson blew past Bears left guard Josh Sitton with a beautiful swim move (as noted here by respected NFL writer / analyst Jon Ledyard) for his sack of Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky on Chicago's drive right before halftime; that came on a key 3rd down play for the Saints defense.
Hendrickson's sack cost the Bears field position, and it meant that they'd have to try a little bit of a longer field attempt than they would have liked to.
Trey Hendrickson took Josh Sitton's soul with this swim pic.twitter.com/dKLSKKNUjE
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) October 30, 2017
And as a result, it meant that Bears kicker Connor Barth — who has struggled this season on field goal attempts from 40 yards or longer this season — was forced to attempt a try from 48 yards out.
Barth then missed the kick, his 4th miss this season from that distance.
Barth's miss kept the score up to that point at 14-3, and clearly took away an opportunity for Chicago to gain some much-needed momentum before heading into the locker room for halftime.
It was Hendrickson who gets the credit for coming up with a big play when the Saints defense needed one; and his performance is yet another example of how phenomenal this 2017 Saints Draft Class has been in their rookie year.
You can go ahead and add Hendrickson's name to a list of Saints rookies that have already made an immediate impact this season; a list that already includes current starters Marshon Lattimore (1st Round) , right offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk (1st Round), free safety Marcus Williams (2nd Round), and running back Alvin Kamara (3rd Round).
Also don't forget: linebacker (and 3rd Round pick) Alex Anzalone was starting before he got hurt and placed on injured reserve; and 6th Round pick Al-Quadin Muhammad has also played some this year.
And now Hendrickson has put his name into the conversation of this dynamic draft class that has been the clear-cut catalyst behind the sudden re-emergence of the Saints as a Playoff contender in 2017, after the past 3 straight losing seasons.
The Saints coaching staff has always been impressed with Hendrickson since he arrived in New Orleans; after the organization selected him from Florida Atlantic University with their last one of three 3rd Round picks.
The 6-foot-4, 271 pound and 22-year old Orlando, Florida native 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.
So it goes without saying: the Saints and Director of College Scouting Jeff Ireland, knew EXACTLY what they were getting with the selection of Hendrickson.
Saints head coach Sean Payton during a press conference just last week, when asked about the growth that he's seen from week-to-week from Hendrickson:
"He's smart. He's tough. I think there's a sense of urgency with him. For a young player, he's come in and adjusted to what the NFL gives".
Payton then went on to expand upon the qualities that Hendrickson brings to his now expanded role; a role that could grow even more as Hendrickson gets more playing time and gains more confidence with each snap of the football.
"I think that he's a versatile player in that he can go outside, he can come inside in the sub-rush and he has a high motor."
"He's a guy that's going to give you the whole 6 seconds of a play".
If Hendrickson's increased role continues to expand, chances are that he's going to give New Orleans a whole lot more than they probably could have ever hoped for.
And for a whole lot longer than just 6 seconds.
For a Saints defense that was so desperately needing an upgrade at several key positions, you can go ahead and add Hendrickson's name to the list of young men who have come in and given the unit a much-needed infusion of top-notch talent.