Impact Of Akiem Hicks Instrumental For Bears Defense

November 15, 2018 - 3:41 pm
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Inside the trenches, the origin of each play in a football game, impact often goes unnoticed. The players throwing their bodies around certainly realize it, but watch a game on TV and you rarely are given an appreciation for the line of scrimmage.

A defensive lineman like Akiem Hicks often is overlooked unless he's sacking a quarterback or stuffing a running back in the backfield. But the Bears certainly know how important Hicks has been to their defense, which ranks fourth in total defense and fourth in scoring defense in the NFL.

Hicks has brought the Bears much more than his 29 tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles. His primary role as the 5-technique often means taking on two or even three blockers in pursuit of the quarterback and creating opportunities for his teammates.

Finally, it seems Hicks is garnering the respect he deserves.

"Akiem is an extremely powerful player," Hall of Fame defensive end Dan Hampton said.

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Last season, Hicks posted a career-best eight sacks but was snubbed from the Pro Bowl in part because of a technicality. Hicks was listed as a defensive end on the Pro Bowl ballot, which meant he was on the same ballot as players in 4-3 systems who post double-digit sack totals. In the Bears' 3-4 scheme, Hicks doesn't get anywhere near the opportunity of a player like the Vikings' Everson Griffen, who recorded 13 sacks and earned the Pro Bowl nod instead.

This time, Hicks is listed as a defensive tackle on the Pro Bowl ballot. What also can help his case is serving as a leader for a Bears defense that has been dominant in a 6-3 start. The Bears are second in the league with 24 takeaways and lead the way with 89 points scored off those turnovers forced. 

Hicks has been instrumental in the Bears' success on defense.

"We've been juiced up for a long time," Hicks said. "We've been juiced up since we were going through OTAs and realizing what we had in this building and realizing the type of player you have playing next to you. I think that carries over into the season.

"Our entire defense is just super aggressive, super excited to play football. I think we just love the game as a unit, and we're just together in that. And that propels us forward into being a dominating defense."

The success of Hicks hasn't surprised the Bears, who locked him into a new four-year $48-million deal, with $30 million guaranteed, prior to the 2017 season. They wanted him to be a key cog for their defensive front, which has made great strides since he put pen to paper.

Hicks has never been the kind of player to speak on his individual performance, and that still remains the case. Hicks instead is out to generate attention for a teammate like Eddie Goldman, whom he referred to as an "unsung hero" playing the role of nose tackle. The Bears are happy to share the credit for their success, and Hicks is deserving of plenty.

Rookie defensive lineman Bilal Nichols, the Bears' fifth-round pick who's now playing a regular role, referred to Hicks as a key mentor -- with his words and also the example he sets each Sunday.

"It's been great for me," Nichols said. "It's given me a great opportunity to see how you stay in the league long and play at a high level.

"For a big man, he's always going full speed. As a teammate, you respect that, a guy like that going full speed all the time. It's just a respect thing."

While he may not admit it publicly, Hicks would like to receive his first Pro Bowl honor. But he also understands that fan voting is one-third of the ballot and that the average viewer may not appreciate what he brings for the Bears defense.

Perhaps that's OK. Respect for a player like Hicks, often left doing the dirty work, comes with wins. He and the Bears are on their way.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​