Defensive end Akiem Hicks is ready to take the next step to stardom. Oh, is he ready.
‘‘If you guys want to know something interesting about myself, I have a little goal board in my room that I look at whenever I get up,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘I can’t tell you all my goals on there, but I will say this: It’s just constant improvement, and my goals for this year are that in every category.’’
Is the Pro Bowl on there?
‘‘Yes, it is,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ll tell you that.’’
How about a dollar amount on his next contract?
‘‘Was that a serious question?’’ he asked. ‘‘No.’’
A contract extension isn’t on Hicks’ goal board, but it’s certainly in the back of his mind as he prepares for what might be a breakout season.
The timing couldn’t be much better because Hicks appears to be catching a wave at the right time. He’s 27. He’s in his second season in coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense, playing a position well-suited for his talent. And with an upgraded secondary and veteran front seven, the Bears’ defense has a chance to take a quantum leap in 2017.
‘‘Nasty, nasty,’’ Hicks said when asked about the defense. ‘‘Just ready to get after it.’’
Training camp and the preseason often can be deceptive. But among players the Bears hope will reach another level this season, Hicks and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd look like the best bets to do it.
‘‘It’s a beautiful thing to be looked at as somebody that [the Bears] want to be a part of your team for a long time,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘I appreciate the interest in that category, and I would love to be a Bear for a long time.
‘‘I’m still living my dream. I’m still playing every day. I still get to be a Bear. I’m under contract for another year. I’m taking it step by step. I’d love to be a Bear for a long time. Let’s leave it at that.’’
It’ll be interesting to see how things play out because it sure seems as though Hicks and Fangio’s defense are made for each other. Hicks has been respected as a prospect since being drafted in the third round by the Saints in 2012 out of the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. But he took his biggest step once the Bears gave him an opportunity and put him in a spot where he could excel.
‘‘I attribute me getting better to being in better situations,’’ Hicks said.
‘‘He’s adapted well here,’’ coach John Fox said of Hicks. ‘‘[Defensive line coach] Jay Rodgers has done a terrific job with him. [Hicks has] adapted his technique. He’s really been all over the place in his career. He was a [4-3] defensive end in New Orleans. New England played him a little more like we play him, a little heavier on guys, and he’s adapted well and done a good job.’’
As long as he stays healthy, it’s full speed ahead for Hicks, whether he signs an extension or plays out the season.
‘‘I think you’re always betting on yourself,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘You’re always saying to yourself: ‘Man, I’m going to do really good this year. I’m going to get a million sacks. I’m going to get a million tackles. I’m unstoppable.’
‘‘That’s the way you approach every year. I think if you come back from that and you start putting restrictions on yourself, then you’re not going to get what you ultimately want.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.