FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — In a different universe, Akiem Hicks would be home this week. Before the defensive end accepted a contract with the Bears this March, he first had to say no to Bill Belichick on the phone. The Patriots had traded for him at last year’s trade deadline, and wanted him to return this season.
“How could you not want to come back to a true team like this?” he said Tuesday after the Patriots-Bears join practice.
Here’s one reason: Hicks got a larger contract — two years, $10 million — with the Bears. He owes a debt to the Patriots, though, who, for the low price of tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, gave Hicks a chance to recapture dominance from earlier in his career.
Hicks had been demoted to second team in a new Saints scheme and asked to play in uncharted depths — like across from the tackle’s outside shoulder.
Asked what he learned with the Patriots, Hicks said he wished he could pick one thing.
“I have a great deal of respect for this organization and how I was brought in at the beginning of the season, without training camp and how they just got me acclimated to the system and being able to play,” he said. “I think the organization of this team is something that every team in the NFL can emulate.”
He’s has been easy to find during Bears training camp, both in Bourbonnais and at Patriot Place. He’s been the team’s best — and loudest — defensive lineman.
“He just plays with an attitude, with an attitude that you want your D-linemen playing like,” inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “But it’s not just him you know, but him being him, he’s just one of those guys that demands attention. And even though he gets that attention he’s going to work his hardest to fight through it.
“And he just thinks he’s the best thing smokin’ out there. And he’s going to play like it too.”
It’s become contagious, carrying on to linebackers and defensive backs, Freeman said.
“I get excited pretty easily,” Hicks said. “But I think that’s part of the position of a defensive lineman, you know? You gotta be able to bring the juice.”