For no particular reason, Bears coach Matt Nagy made a point recently to tell defensive end Akiem Hicks how much he appreciated ‘‘the way he has handled this training camp.’’
It had nothing to do with Hicks’ desire for a contract extension that compelled Nagy to massage him. Nothing to do with any possible unhappiness or frustration he might be feeling. Nothing to do with the practice time Hicks inexplicably missed during camp. Maybe the mood just struck him.
‘‘I mean, he has practiced hard,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘He’s being a great leader in meetings. He’s really been awesome. And for that, I told him: ‘You know, sometimes we as coaches can always talk about the bad, whether it’s what you did wrong in a play or what we need to do here or there. And a lot of times we don’t give enough praise when we just take it for granted.’
‘‘I told him: ‘Listen man, I love your leadership. I love the way you’re handling this summer and where you’re at, and it’s really neat to see right now where you’re at.’’
It’s good that Nagy knows where Hicks is at because Hicks has been a mystery to the rest of us. He has been one of the Bears’ most publicly engaging players, not only available to reporters regularly but a willing participant who enjoys a good conversation about football and tells it like it is more often than most. For reporters, he was a go-to guy.
But not anymore. Hicks has taken a sudden, inexplicable heel turn this season, refusing to fulfill any and all media responsibilities in defiance of the NFL’s policies — and without explanation.
We know you don’t care about that. But Hicks has had a couple of curious episodes on the field during camp, as well. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said early in camp that Hicks, who is in the final year of a four-year $48 million contract, is looking for an extension.
On July 29, Hicks missed practice after Nagy didn’t list him as injured. It later was called a foot injury. On Aug. 17, Hicks mysteriously left practice during warmups and didn’t return — with no explanation from Nagy. On Aug. 23, he arrived to practice 40 minutes late, again with no explanation.
So what’s wrong? Not a thing, Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace said. If Hicks is unhappy about his contract situation, they’re not seeing it.
‘‘For me, Akiem has been in an unbelievable place,’’ Pace said. ‘‘How he’s been as a teammate, how he’s been in our building, the shape he’s in right now, the effort he’s playing with has been awesome. I think he’s gonna have a really big year, and we’re excited about that.’’
So why did he leave practice last month?
‘‘No update,’’ Nagy said at the time.
‘‘That feels like six months ago to me,’’ Pace said Wednesday. ‘‘So I don’t even remember.’’
Maybe there really is nothing to see here, but the situation bears watching as Hicks goes into the final year of his contract at 31. He still is the heart and soul of the Bears’ defense. There’s a reason why Pace kept Hicks and cut cornerback Kyle Fuller to get out of a salary-cap bind.
But if Pace wouldn’t splurge on 28-year-old receiver Allen Robinson, the only extension Hicks is likely to get at this point will be at the Bears’ price — especially with outside linebacker Robert Quinn and linebacker Danny Trevathan slowing down at 30 last season.
So Hicks likely is in the same position he has been in throughout his NFL career: another prove-it year. Because no matter how much they love your leadership and how hard you work and how awesome you are in meetings, business is still business.