Hicks needs more help from Bears' teammates this year

BOURBONNAIS - Defensive end Akiem Hicks played last season at a level very few of his teammates approached. He needs more help this year if the Chicago Bears are to return to respectability, and Hicks says the early signs are encouraging.

"I sense a lot of guys champing at the bit," he said. "Everybody knows we've got a lot to prove, as a team and individually. And I feel like everyone knows it's put up or shut up. It's intense, put it that way."

Hicks was the consensus defensive MVP in 2016, leading the team with 18 quarterback pressures and tying for second with 7 sacks. His 71 tackles were more than twice as many as the Bears' next lineman.

Hicks could be even more effective this year if nose tackle Eddie Goldman is healthier than in 2016, when a high sprained ankle sidelined him for most of the season.

"When he's on the field, he makes a difference, anyone can see that," Hicks said of Goldman. "Eddie is dominant. You can feel him next to you, because I know that that guard isn't going to come out and try to help (block me) or whatever the scenario is. I know I'm more likely to have a one-on-one with a guy when Eddie's playing nose."

Strong up front:

On a team with very little star power, general manager Ryan Pace believes the defensive front seven, anchored by Hicks and Goldman, is something to build around.

"We talk about our front seven a lot," Pace said. "The health of our front seven is going to be important. Eddie Goldman (ankle) coming back healthy is going to be significant. Akiem Hicks playing at a high level. Signing Jaye Howard in the off-season. The two inside linebackers.

"We know our depth at outside linebacker. I really feel like that could be a strength of this team. We've just got to keep that group healthy."

Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan is ahead of schedule coming off knee surgery, but not practicing every day. He and Jerrell Freeman give the Bears strength in the middle, as long as Trevathan doesn't suffer any setbacks.

All grown up:

After two straight practices in full pads, the appreciation of running back Jordan Howard grows.

"You get into these OTAs (organized team activities), and they're in shorts, so it's hard to appreciate somebody like Jordan," Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. "You put on the full pads, and (you appreciate) the instincts and the pad level and the body lean he runs with.

"If I'm an offensive lineman, I like blocking for a guy like that. He's going to maximize every carry, and we expect that to continue to get better."

Despite not starting the first three games last season, the fifth-round pick established a franchise rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards.

"You talk about how guys grow," coach John Fox said, "a year ago at this time, we weren't talking about Jordan Howard."

Catching on:

No. 2 quarterback Mark Sanchez struggled a day earlier, but on Monday he threw back-to-back TD passes to a pair of rookies in a red-zone segment.

Sanchez found tight end Adam Shaheen over the middle and running back back Tarik Cohen in the back corner of the end zone.

It's been difficult not to notice the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Shaheen in the first week of practice.

"He's a big target," coach John Fox said. "He's got good body control for a big man. I've liked what I've seen. We didn't get to see so much with the off-season, obviously without pads. Even his point-of-attack blocking I've been impressed with. He's got soft hands and good body control. If he touches the ball, he's catching it."

Injury update:

Wide receiver Markus Wheaton (appendectomy), running back Jeremy Langford (ankle) and guards Josh Sitton (paternity leave) and Eric Kush (hamstring) remained out of practice. Sitton is expected back Wednesday, when camp resumes after Tuesday's day off.

Tight end Zach Miller (soreness) was in uniform but got a veteran's day off.

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