Obscured by Khalil Mack’s shadow, Bears’ Akiem Hicks deserves his own star

SHARE Obscured by Khalil Mack’s shadow, Bears’ Akiem Hicks deserves his own star
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Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (right) tackles Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson, middle, with help from Eddie Goldman (91) in the Bears’ 16-14 victory on Sept. 23 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. | Ralph Freso/AP photo

If you were watching the Bears-Cardinals game Sunday, defensive end Akiem Hicks’ sack of quarterback Sam Bradford, who fumbled on the play, late in the second quarter was all about outside linebacker Khalil Mack. What isn’t these days?

Fox play-by-play man Dick Stockton: ‘‘Third down-and-12 for Bradford. Can’t get away this time [as Bradford is sacked by Hicks]. Loses the ball! But Khalil Mack and company bring the charge.

Analyst Mark Schlereth: ‘‘We haven’t talked about Khalil Mack at all, but you want to talk about — I love this. . . . He sees the chip coming. He turns it into a bull rush. You’ve got three guys going after Khalil Mack. Watch him push inside and create that opportunity for . . . ’’

Stockton, after a pause: ‘‘Looks like Hicks got in.’’

Schlereth: ‘‘Excellent job by Khalil Mack. And Hicks cleaning that up.’’

Stockton: ‘‘That’s what the presence of Mack does. He allows guys like Hicks to look even better than they’ve ever looked before because you have to keep that eye on Khalil Mack.’’

With the excitement of Mack’s immense presence on the Bears’ defense comes a new reality for his teammates: While Mack creates great opportunities for everyone, he also casts a huge shadow. Every player recognizes that it’s a great deal. Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan already has parlayed the rising tide of the Mack-led defense into an NFC Defensive Player of the Week award.

But Hicks has been overshadowed more than anyone. The 6-5, 332-pounder was the best player on the defense the last two seasons and had a legitimate claim to a Pro Bowl snub in 2017. This might be a season of overdue recognition for Hicks. By early indications, though, it might be awhile before people recognize that while Mack is creating opportunities for Hicks, Hicks also is creating opportunities for Mack.

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‘‘I’ll never be comfortable in anybody’s shadow,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘I think that everybody has a great deal of personal pride on this defense, and we’re all going to go out there and hunt. Whatever the commentators say, that’s up to them. But as long as you have the respect of your teammates and the guys that you play against, I think that is the ultimate level of respect.’’

Be that as it may, Hicks couldn’t help but notice another facet of the Mack Effect in the locker room after the victory against the Cardinals. While a crowd of reporters waited for Mack, Hicks — normally a go-to guy for the media — wasn’t even approached by a reporter until he was about to leave the locker room.

‘‘I’ve been unrecognized before,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘I haven’t made a Pro Bowl in seven years. I haven’t made an All-Pro team in seven years. My goal is always to be the best me or the best player that I envision myself being. Beyond all recognition and accolades and stuff, I go out there and lay my stuff out every week.’’

Eventually, the Mack Effect figures to lead to more recognition as sacks, turnovers and other big plays — and victories — pile up. Everybody prospers when a defense reaches the elite level the Bears are approaching in the early going.

‘‘We have so many damn playmakers on defense that, at any moment, another guy can come up with the play,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘And as long as we’re all hunting, I think we’re all going to eat.’’

And regardless of individual recognition, Hicks is enjoying this rise toward the top.

‘‘It’s one of the reasons that I chose to come here,’’ said Hicks, who picked the Bears over the Patriots in free agency in 2015. ‘‘I said to myself: ‘Do I stay in New England with a franchise that’s already been dominant? Or do I go to Chicago and be a part of this rebuilding effort in order to make ourselves one of the best defenses in the league?’ I think I made the right decision.’’

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