Often times in life, all someone needs is to be given the simple chance to prove that they are good enough to do something, even when there might be some people that aren't completely convinced that the person can pull it off. For Saints 2nd year defensive end Trey Hendrickson, that chance is likely to come this weekend when the (6-1) Saints face the visiting and undefeated (8-0) Los Angeles Rams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
With Saints first-round draft pick Marcus Davenport possibly expected to miss as much as up to a whole month with a big toe injury on his right foot, Hendrickson is expected to earn additional playing time on the D-Line for the first time since early September.
Neither Saints head coach Sean Payton or Davenport have told the media yet just whether or not if there's any sort of a firm date or timetable for the rookie's eventual return to the line-up; but it does mean that in his place, the 23-year old Hendrickson will now likely fill in during pass rush situations just as Davenport (who has 4 sacks thus far) had done through the team's first seven games of the season.
As noted by The Athletic.com film analyst / writer Walter "Deuce" Windham: Hendrickson had a total of 14 snaps played in the team's season-opening 2018 Regular Season loss at home to Tampa Bay, and hasn't played a SINGLE SNAP on defense ever since.
But Windham does add that whenever Hendrickson has played both last season and earlier in the Pre-Season, he's been somewhat effective at generating pressure (once every 18.7 snaps) and "making a mark" against opposing QB's as a situational pass rusher.
Last season as a rookie, Hendrickson notched 2 sacks, 2 pass deflections, 2 tackles for loss, 5 QB "hits", and a forced fumble in a limited back-up role as part of the Saints D-Line "NASCAR" rotational substitution packages that saw him participate in just 281 snaps during the 2017 regular season.
He suffered a lower leg injury in a Week #16 win against the Atlanta Falcons and did not return to play until the postseason, recording 4 tackles (3 solo) in the Saints' two NFC Playoff games against Carolina and Minnesota.
But Hendrickson's D-Line teammates feel that the former Florida Atlantic University star is more than capable of handling the task this Sunday against the Rams; and Saints 6th year veteran defensive end Alex Okafor told New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill yesterday that some people may have forgotten just how well Hendrickson has already has shown previously, that he can effectively fill in whenever his name is called upon.
“People forget he was able to get after the passer last year,” Okafor said. “I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat. That’s no disrespect to Marcus; we’re just so deep in that in that room that we’re confident."
“Week in and week out, he’s practicing like he’s preparing to play,” Okafor said. “Whenever his number got called this week he didn’t have to do anything special; he didn’t have to get mentally prepared because he’s been getting ready for this season.”
As a situational pass rusher behind both Okafor and All-Pro starting left defensive end Cam Jordan in that role last season, Hendrickson had originally figured to continue in that role moving forward this season, even with Davenport in the mix.
However, Davenport was starting to come on very strong for New Orleans in the past few games; which unfortunately for Hendrickson meant a decrease in snaps and even less playing time than the team had planned on giving to him originally.
Hendrickson for his part, told reporters back during the Pre-Season that he is just happy to be a part of the Saints organization and getting the opportunity to compete for snaps.
"Good competition, that's what I thrive under," Hendrickson said.
"I can't speak for everybody but I'm interested to see how it all pans out, and if everybody works hard?"
"Then we're are all getting better."
For Hendrickson, "getting better" means refining his pass-rushing moves and techniques.
As The Athetic.com's Windham notes in this fantastic analysis (right below) that he did last year on Hendrickson's various strengths and weaknesses, Hendrickson made a major leap forward in his development towards the end of last year, and was able to hone his craft at rushing the passer.
Particularly, Windam says that Hendrickson was able to start using a "forklift move" where he utilized his speed coming off the outside edge; to slap on the outside hand of the opponent's offensive left tackle and then drive it up in the air — which forces the offensive tackle to "re-set" his position, but allows Hendrickson to successfully convert "speed to power" and make the play.
For Hendrickson, the only thing left to do now is to continue his growth and development; as he looks for any way to contribute for a young Saints defense that some observers believe can continually improve and get better as the remainder of the schedule plays out, after this year's notable and somewhat rather shaky start to the regular season.
Whether the team's dramatic improvement on that side of the ball will gradually build over time as it has in the past few games or not; then at least Saints fans can take comfort in the knowledge in the fact that if nothing else, they're loaded with young talent at the premium pass rush positions.
The only thing that needs to happen for New Orleans now, is to somehow hope that there aren't any other significant injuries along the defensive line that would hinder their ability to successfully rush the passer.
But if there does happen to be another one, then you can bet that the young man nicknamed "T-Rex" will be more than ready to fill in at a moment's notice — and "make his mark" just as he'll be trying to do against the undefeated Rams this Sunday....