The Bears’ defensive remodel continued late into Sunday night, when the team signed defensive end Akiem Hicks to a two-year contract.
Hicks visited Halas Hall late Friday night and stayed in Chicago during the weekend while weighing other offers.
His new boss is familiar with him, and vice versa — GM Ryan Pace was a member of the Saints front office that drafted Hicks in the third round four years ago.
The 6-foot-5, 324-pounder has the prototypical size — to go with an 84-inch wingspan and 10 ¼-inch hands — for a run-stuffing, 3-4 defensive end in Vic Fangio’s system.
“When I look at some of the players that he’s had in the past, I’d definitely say that I’m comfortable to that as far as my leverage and my length and my capability to play multiple positions,” Hicks said Monday. “If anything, I’m pretty excited to see how I will fare in his defense. He’s had a great track record of making successful defensive linemen and successful defenses as a whole. I’m just excited to be under his tutelage and to learn from a great mind in the NFL for a number of years.”
He said his role would be for his coaches to decide, but that he chose the Bears in part for the opportunity.
“They have been — and are still, currently — making great decisions in order to bring players and the coaching staff and everybody to this organization to build something great here in Chicago,” Hicks said. “I’m a believer. I’ve seen some of the moves that they’ve made and I’ve seen the way that they’ve gone about business and I’m excited to be a part of that, and was excited from afar.”
Hicks started the first three games for the Saints last season before being traded to the Patriots for tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. He did not start in New England but became a reliable part of their defensive line rotation, totaling three sacks, four quarterback hits and recovering a fumble in Weeks 14 and 15 alone.
The 26-year-old took an unusual path to the NFL. The Sacramento, Calif., native played for Sacramento City College for two years before enrolling at LSU. He never played there because of an investigation into impermissible benefits, and later enrolled at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan.
He was named the top lineman in Canada West in 2011 and impressed scouts with a strong showing in the East-West Shrine Game.
Hicks joins a pair of new defenders, inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, in Fangio’s remodeled scheme. The Bears brought back cornerback Tracy Porter and defensive lineman Mitch Unrein this week, too.
“If you’ve got two great linebackers behind you, you should have a pretty good day on the defensive line,” he said.
Hicks — who was lobbied by guard Kyle Long, among others — figures to start at one of the two defensive end spots.
The Bears can turn to other needs now — among them, the tight end position. Free agent Zach Miller met with the Rams on Sunday, a source said.
The Rams have reason to be intrigued by Miller. He caught five passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns against them as a member of the Bears last season, and former Bears receivers coach Mike Groh is now the Rams’ passing coordinator.
Pace said last month that Miller, 31, would test the free-agent market to set his price. His 34 catches, 439 yards and five touchdowns last season all were career highs.
The Bears lost one tight end option Sunday when Jermaine Gresham decided to return to the Cardinals. Gresham interviewed Friday at Halas Hall and, according to NFL Network, received a four-year contract offer from the Bears.
The Bears seem likely to part with tight end Martellus Bennett, who has one year left on his contract, if they can find an acceptable replacement on the free-agent market. Most draft experts think the class lacks a first-year NFL starter at the position.
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