When Ryan Pace took over as the general manager of the Chicago Bears, he inherited a roster with very few defensive assets.
Though the 2015 season saw a jump from their being the second-worst defense in opposing points to ranking 20th, the Bears’ defense was still sorely lacking in talent. Their secondary was young and lacked significant investment, their linebackers were among the worst in the league, and they struggled heavily with generating pressure along the interior against the pass.
In his first offseason, Pace added the likes of Pernell McPhee and Antrel Rolle to the defense. The former showed promise but struggled with injury, while the latter was released after just one season.
It wasn’t until 2016 that the Bears made significant long-term additions to their defense in free agency, and arguably their most impactful signing that year was defensive lineman Akiem Hicks.
A rotational lineman for the Saints and Patriots early in his career, Hicks was signed to a two-year, $10 million deal in 2016. While he was expected to step into a starting role for the Bears, few could have expected he would make as big of an impact as he did for the team.
In his first three seasons with the team, Hicks tallied 23 sacks, 38 tackles for a loss and 53 quarterback hits. He broke out from the get-go as a physical run-stuffer who could also rush the passer with incredible precision and quickness for a 350-pounder, and his energy on and off the field appeared radiant from a fan’s perspective. For a defense that lacked identity, the Bears were able to receive a jolt of swagger and confidence by signing Hicks.
The veteran interior defender had dominated opposing offensive linemen from his debut with the Bears, but he received more mainstream acclaim with the Bears’ phenomenal defensive performance in 2018. With 7.5 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, 16 quarterback hits, 3 forced fumbles and 5 pass deflections, Hicks was named a Pro Bowler and a second-team All-Pro.
I also have a personal tie with Hicks. 2017 was my first year writing for Windy City Gridiron, and I had the opportunity to interview him — along with Otis Wilson and Richard Dent — at the Brookfield Zoo. I was one of three media members to cover the Ford-sponsored event and was flanked by two journalists who had more experience covering the team than I did.
At the time, I had interviewed draft prospects over the phone and had participated in media scrums, but I had never had the chance to interview a player in-person in such an intimate setting, much less one of the Bears’ star players. I was certainly nervous, but Hicks was incredibly cordial, went out of his way to say hello to me and addressed me by name. It may sound trivial, but that gesture made me feel a lot more at ease. Sure, he was a superstar athlete, but he’s also a human being, and an easygoing human being, at that.
A dominant interior defender with energy galore and an endearing personality, Hicks has rightfully been one of the faces of the Bears’ organization. That’s what makes him my favorite player currently on their roster.
Now it’s your turn.
Who is your favorite current Bears player?