After career season, Bears' Hicks believes he can do better

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks, who had a career year with 7 sacks and 71 tackles last season, believes he can play ever better this year.

    Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks, who had a career year with 7 sacks and 71 tackles last season, believes he can play ever better this year. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/30/2017 7:28 PM

In 2016, his first season with the Bears, Akiem Hicks accomplished what none of his new defensive teammates did -- he had a career year.

In his fifth season, the 6-foot-5, 336-pound Hicks had a personal-best 7 sacks after getting a combined 9 ½ in his first four seasons. His 71 tackles were more than twice as many as the next Bears defensive lineman, and his 18 quarterback pressures led all Bears.

 

But those personal milestones were hardly noticeable in the train wreck of the Bears' 3-13 season.

"You just kept hoping that it would turn around," Hicks said, looking back on the worst 16-game season in franchise history. "You just kept fighting and striving because any success you have by yourself gets overlooked if your team isn't successful.

"You don't get happier. The days get longer when you're losing. It doesn't get more fun. It gets harder and tougher, and you keep pushing, and you're looking for that light at the end of the tunnel."

In 2013, Hicks had a breakout season for the New Orleans Saints, who drafted him in the third round a year earlier. He started all 16 games and had 63 tackles with 4 ½ sacks. But when the Saints converted from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3, Hicks was lost in the transition. Miscast, Hicks' effectiveness and playing time dwindled. He was dealt to the New England Patriots early in the 2015 season, and later he was signed by the Bears in free agency.

Back in a base 3-4 with the Bears, Hicks re-established himself as a two-way force, able to effectively utilize his mass and skill set.

"I felt like I was given the freedom to put out there what I thought I always had," he said. "I was thankful I was getting the opportunity to showcase what I could do."

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Because 2015 second-round nose tackle Eddie Goldman missed half the 2016 season with a nagging high-ankle sprain and third-round pick Jonathan Bullard struggling as a rookie, Hicks was on the field for 86.6 percent of the Bears' defensive plays. His 931 snaps were more than twice as many as the next Bears D-lineman.

While there's a lot of wear and tear that comes with that much action in the trenches, Hicks believes the extended play time helped him get into a rhythm. And, he said, he preferred the overtime to the previous rotational role.

"You play this game of football, you're going to be beat up and you feel it going through the season," Hicks said. "But that's what I signed up for."

Hicks believes he can be more effective this season playing slightly fewer snaps, as long as it means the talented 6-foot-4, 320-pound Goldman can play a full season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I can't wait," Hicks said. "And it's coming. I can see him out here (during OTAs), just putting in work. He's making sure he's healthy and trying to stay conditioned."

A D-line with Hicks and Goldman both healthy for 16 games will go a long way toward improved results for them, and for a defense that could use the help.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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