From what he can tell so far in his playbook study and Organized Team Activities workouts, Hendrickson sees a chance to be more involved in a myriad of ways in the Bengals’ defense.
“I’m excited to have an opportunity to play more,” Hendrickson said. “It’s going to be a unique opportunity to rush the passer and be used in different ways. This is a super exciting time learning this playbook. I’ve been going back and forth with (defensive line) coach (Marion) Hobby learning all this stuff. It’s a blessing. I’m super excited like I said. I can’t say it enough. It’s looking very unique of anything I’ve ever played before but I think it’s playing to both the defense and what I can bring to the table.”
In that regard, Hendrickson especially is grateful free agency came for him this year instead of one season earlier when there would have been no in-person workouts to get settled into his new team.
Like many other newcomers, he’s found OTAs to be helpful in his transition while learning a defense so “unique” and trying to get to know his teammates. The Bengals finished OTAs on Thursday and now will hold a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before breaking until training camp at the end of July.
Hendrickson says he will have a solid understanding of his role and expectations before going into training camp – and that might not have been the case without the offseason workout program.
“It’s just the fits and how we’re attacking offenses,” Hendrickson said of what makes the defense unique. “It’s just different from what I’ve done before, the way they’re using me personally and the way...obviously, Sam (Hubbard) the opposite me, the more we can do the better it will help the defense. So you kind of get eager. It’s not like taking an exam where it’s a pending day and you’re excited to learn the next chapter and another tool in the tool box.”
Hendrickson said he looks forward to playing opposite Hubbard and in a way competing with him and the other defensive linemen to see who can get to the quarterback.
The Bengals struggled in that regard last year, only finishing with 17 sacks. Hubbard had 14.5 sacks combined between his first two seasons – 8.5 of them as a full-time starter in 2019 – but recorded just 2.0 sacks last year. Hendrickson was brought in to help in that regard, though he has shown just one season of that ability to finish consistently.
Hendrickson recorded just 6.5 sacks over his first three seasons, but broke out last year in his first season as a full-time starter. He replaces Carl Lawson, who signed a three-year, $45 million deal with the New York Jets after recording 5.5 sacks last year in his first season as a starter.
With Hendrickson and Hubbard, as well as a healthy D.J. Reader, Larry Ogunjobi and Mike Daniels inside, the Bengals are hoping to get more pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. Hendrickson said he and Hubbard especially complement each other well.
“We both race to the quarterback every day,” Hendrickson said. “That’s what defensive ends do. It’s going to be a competitive atmosphere but we are both making each other better. You can’t sack the quarterback one through five. I need him just as much as he needs me. Same with the interior, Larry, DJ and Mike, all those guys we all bring something to the table that’s why football is so special because we all can’t do it alone.”
After watching film of the Bengals’ defense last season, Hendrickson insists they were “a piece or two away” from being really competitive. The Bengals then went and tried to make some upgrades with Hendrickson and Ogunjobi, replacing veteran Geno Atkins, and cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton to join previously injured Trae Waynes in a secondary that returns safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell.
Cincinnati will continue to rely on young linebackers signed from the 2019 and 2020 drafts.
“It’s a very talented group of guys,” Hendrickson said of the defense. “You got Jessie, Vonn, Sam, DJ, Larry. When you got guys like that who can fly around at 100 miles per hour, very intelligent guys, like I said earlier this year we are only a piece or two (away) last year when I put on the film. Another year in this offseason learning the playbook and stuff can only help the young linebacker core. Bringing in veterans like us, Larry and I, I think we are on the right track.”