What’s going on with Akiem Hicks? Why hasn’t he spoken to the media? Is he unhappy playing on the last year of his contract without an extension? What happened that one time he was pulled from practice after warmups?
All of these are valid questions surrounding one of the most impactful players on the Bears defense. It’s understandable if some of those questions lead to concern from an outsider’s perspective. But inside Halas Hall, no one seems to be concerned with Hicks’ mysterious offseason一 or at least no one is letting on that something troubling may be afoot.
“It's funny you ask that, I grabbed him the other day and I brought him over and said just how appreciative I am of the way he has handled this training camp,” Matt Nagy said when asked about his read on Hicks’ mindset this summer. “I mean he has practiced hard, he's being a great leader in the meetings. He's really been awesome and for that I told him一 you know sometimes we as coaches can always talk about the bad, whether it's what you did wrong in a play, right, or what we need to do here or there across the board. And a lot of times, we don't sometimes give enough praise when we just take it for granted. I told him, ‘Listen man, I love your leadership, I love the way you're handling this summer and where you're at and it's really neat to see right now where you're at.’”
“For me, Akiem has been in an unbelievable place,” said Ryan Pace on Wednesday. “How he’s been as a teammate, how he’s been in our building, the shape he’s in right now, the effort that he’s playing with right now has been awesome, so I think he’s gonna have a really big year and we’re excited about that.”
From a player’s perspective, Hicks has always been a leader, but this year he’s taken on an even bigger leadership role.
“Specifically this year he’s a little more vocal,” Tashaun Gipson said. “Having guys like that is huge for a defense. I think that a lot of guys feed off that. Not only do you respect him as a player, but you respect him as a person, you respect him as a leader. Year-in and year-out— this is my second year here— but he’s constantly looked at as a leader. When you vote for team captains, he definitely has my vote. Last year he had my vote, this year. Having guys like that in the locker room, just good locker room guys, is huge for the team. Akiem is the perfect fit for here. Everybody loves him, everybody’s got respect for him and obviously what he does on Sundays counts and he does that very well.”
As for that one mysterious practice when Hicks was taken off the field early and didn’t return until the next day, the team declined to explain what happened, again.
“That feels like six months ago to me, so I don’t even remember,” Pace said.
Is it possible that Pace truly forgot what happened in an objectively unusual circumstance with one of his best players? Sure, it’s possible. Is it plausible? That’s another story. But again, for whatever reason the Bears want to keep whatever happened there within their walls, leaving us to speculate. One of the most popular theories you see on social media is that the incident is somehow connected to Hicks’ perceived displeasure with playing under an expiring deal.
Unsurprisingly, Pace declined to comment on that, as well. But that’s more understandable as most GMs opt not to talk about ongoing contract negotiations. Nagy on the other hand avoids getting involved with those talks at all.
“I try to stay out of that, especially when we're in the season,” Nagy said. “It's a distraction. And I'd tell Hicks the same thing, Ryan the same thing: let's not have distractions. Let's focus on today and what you can do to be great. Because if you handle your business, you come every day and you're a true pro, and you do everything we want you to do, and we work together, everything will take care of itself. And he's done that... That's all he can do and he gets it.”
Nothing about Hicks’ summer has been transparent, other than his play on the field. In that regard, everyone can see the energy he brings to practice and how it should translate to dominating opposing offensive lines, like always. That, for now, is enough for the Bears.
“He's been fine,” Nagy said the day after Hicks left practice early. “We want him to come out and play good football. Go sack the quarterback and stop the run.”
If he does that, then all of the strangeness surrounding his summer will likely become a distant memory.