BOURBONNAIS, IL — Khalil Mack gets most of the attention on the Bears’ defense, but Akiem Hicks was equally important in making the Bears’ defense one of the best in the NFL last season, and the arrow might still be pointing up for him and for the defense.
If you asked Akiem Hicks whether he’s worthy of being a top 100 NFL player he’d tell you he’s been worthy for a few years now. Entering his eighth season in the league, the veteran defensive tackle was just ranked as the 39th best overall player this year. After being on three other teams before landing in Chicago, Hicks says it’s the freedom coaches give him that allows him to play at such a high level.
“The things that changed for me being in Chicago, is that they allowed me to play my game. They allowed me to be ferocious. They allowed me to attack. They allowed me to play the game the way I know how to play.”
Hicks has totaled at least seven or more sacks every year during his time in Chicago. He’s become an integral part of one of the scariest returning defenses to the league. Hicks knows a special team like the Bears have now are rare.
“These opportunities to have good teams, teams that are playoff-caliber teams, they don’t come around often. One of the special things about our team is that there’s a genuine love of the game, right? And I don’t know if that’s everywhere, but I’ve seen it not in some places so I just appreciate the group of guys that I have and the focus that they have on just being better football players.”
The 29-year-old says he’s always had a sense the Bears defense would be something special. He credits former defensive coordinator and now Denver Bronco’s head coach, Vic Fangio for allowing the guys to play to their strengths. However, if there had to be a replacement to help continue to grow Chicago’s defense Hicks is happy it’s Chuck Pagano.
“When you come into a situation like ours where we’ve already had a top defense, you’ve got to be able to come in and approach it just like he has. I think that he’s done a great job. Man, I can’t wait to put it out there on tape!”
It hasn’t been long since Pagano and the guys started working together, but Hicks says there is mutual respect and an eagerness to grow something that’s already great. They’re off to a good start.