Hub Arkush: A healthy Akiem Hicks could be Bears' best hope against Packers

  • Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (96) sits on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.

    Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (96) sits on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/27/2020 6:37 PM

Speaking to the media Wednesday for almost 16 minutes, Bears coach Matt Nagy wasn't asked a single question that didn't involve his quarterbacks. (Mitch Trubisky has since officially been named starter.)

But is that the biggest issue facing the Bears heading into their Sunday night tilt with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field?

 

There was not one question about Akiem Hicks' hamstring that caused him to leave the Vikings game early and kept him out of practice Wednesday.

If Hicks is unable to go against the Packers, it may not really matter what the quarterbacks or offensive line do.

Beyond Hicks being one of the three or four best interior defensive linemen in the game today, it would mean the Bears will have to take on Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and company without their entire starting defensive line.

The Bears' defense has been very, very good this year, but what has kept it from great has been inconsistent pressure on the quarterback, a lack of sacks and take-aways and some struggles against the run earlier in the year.

But few talk about Eddie Goldman's decision before the season to opt out.

Roy Robertson-Harris really was starting to come on when he went down for the year in Week 8, and the loss of Hicks now would seal the trifecta.

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If there is a way to play Sunday, Hicks will find it. As his position coach, Jay Rodgers said, "He wants to play every snap. This is a different year. There is no guarantee from a game week to week now.

"So the best players are going to be on the field from the beginning to the end. He just happens to be the one guy that loves to play all the time."

But hamstrings take time to heal, and that does not bode well for a quick return 13 days later.

The Bears' depth has been solid.

Bilal Nichols, the fourth guy in the rotation or a co-starter with Robertson-Harris, has earned Rodgers' praise.

"I think he's made great strides. It's always a developmental process to take a guy as a rookie and get him into being a guy in the NFL. And he's played multiple roles for us through his three years here -- first and second down as a backup, then became a starter, now it's playing more third-down roles.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He's playing nose, he's playing end, we've even seen him on the edge a few times in some of our odd packages."

The issue with Nichols is he initially was tasked with taking over Goldman's spot on the nose, and it is the position he is the least suited for.

With Brent Urban having an excellent season in the rotation, both on the nose and at five-technique, and the massive Daniel McCullers now getting plenty of reps in the middle, Nichols can stay outside, where he fits best, and can have the biggest impact if Hicks is out.

The early-season acquisition of Mario Edwards Jr. has proved an excellent move, as he has been possibly the Bears' most consistent pass rusher after Khalil Mack.

"He's tough. He's rugged. He prepares. He practices hard. He only knows one speed," Rodgers said. "So when he gets his opportunity to do what he's supposed to do, he just makes those plays. And it just comes up every week, there's some impactful tackle for loss/sack that he keeps producing for this defense."

Like Nichols, however, Edwards Jr. is a better pass rusher and penetrator than run stuffer and a significant contributor but not an answer for the potential absence of Hicks.

"At the end of the day, there isn't anything you can do about it," Rodgers said. "You just put the guys in where they need to be in.

"It's not like I can say, 'Hey, hurry up and get uninjured,' because that doesn't happen. So you plug the guys in."

Should Hicks be in street clothes Sunday night, that is exactly what the Bears will do, but without his proven ability to dominate the line of scrimmage, limit Jones and pressure Rodgers for significant portions of games, it could prove to be the most difficult challenge the Bears have to overcome.

• Twitter: @Hub_Arkush

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