Bears

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

[MORE BEARS: Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved]

Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”

Kindle Vildor dubbed Bears' rookie who could be surprise gem in 2020

Kindle Vildor dubbed Bears' rookie who could be surprise gem in 2020

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace has a good eye for talent in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. He nailed picks like Eddie Jackson (fourth round), Jordan Howard (fifth round) and Adrian Amos (fifth round) over the years, and the hope is that one of his Day 3 picks in 2020 will continue that trend.

One player who has a chance to exceed his draft slot is Georgia Southern cornerback, Kindle Vildor, who Pace selected in the fifth round of April's draft. He was recently named the Bears' rookie who could be a surprise gem in 2020.

"We stress confidence when we talk about the corner position," general manager Ryan Pace told reporters. "And [Vildor] definitely has that confidence and that playing demeanor that we look for. A skill set that also translates well to special teams, which is going to be important especially in the early part of his development."

The two-time first-team All-Sun Belt performer will have to beat out a few veterans for reps, but his man-coverage and ball skills should fit favorably in the Bears' defensive scheme.

While most of the post-draft attention has been paid to another Bears rookie cornerback, second-round pick Jaylon Johnson, Vildor has a chance to earn significant playing time as a rookie. Only Kyle Fuller is assured a starting job at this point, and while Vildor faces an uphill battle to unseat Buster Skrine for reps, there's no reason to bet against him. Pace has always been a proponent of competition breeding the best results and if Vildor rises to the occasion, the Bears will waste little time inserting him into the lineup.

Vildor ended his college career with 94 tackles, nine interceptions and 25 passes defended.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

    NFL, players union agree on 5 year extension for 'Madden' video game

    NFL, players union agree on 5 year extension for 'Madden' video game

    Good news, Madden fans: you can officially continue spending $80 to complain about how the game hasn't been good in years. 

    According to Darren Rovell, the NFL and EA Sports have agreed to a 5-year extension: 

    Rovell says his sources have told him that, 'the deal is worth at least $1 billion to the NFL and $500 million to the players. The deal also includes at least $500 million in marketing commitments over the years.' 

    Congrats to everyone involved! Now more than ever, football fans need some good news. There's no tradition as timeless as throwing controllers through TVs and against walls when your friend runs four verticals with a Y skinny post over and over and over again. Madden exists solely to allow people cover to yell at the TV without the presence of, like, a real reason. What would we do without it?