When Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks was told in the spring that not one player on the Bears defense had ever made the Pro Bowl, he called it “embarrassing.”
With four games to go in the 2017 season, Hicks arguably has the best chance to end that dubious distinction. But the odds are turning against him as the Bears slump to the finish of another dismal season.
“It’s been a goal of mine since I was drafted in 2012,” said the 28-year-old Hicks, a third-round draft pick of the Saints. “You want the respect of your peers. You want the respect of the fans — they see the product you put on the field. So I’m always aspiring to be the best I can be.
“[It] will be an achievement to get to that platform and say that I put all these things together and made myself into the type of player that is feared and respected.”
Unfortunately, Hicks’ candidacy likely has withered as the Bears’ season has dimmed. At midseason, Hicks looked like a solid Pro Bowl pick — he had seven sacks among his nine tackles-for-loss, plus a fumble recovery, and he was a consistent force, affecting plays even when he wasn’t getting to the quarterback or making the tackle. And the Bears’ defense was getting noticed — eighth in total yards, 10th in passing, 12th in rushing, ninth in sacks and three returns for touchdowns.
But as injuries have piled up, the Bears’ defense has slumped. They are 14th in yards, 12th in passing, 15th in rushing. And though they are up to eighth in sacks per pass play, Hicks has none in the last four games. He still has been effective, but it takes sacks for a defensive end to get to the Pro Bowl, and Hicks likely needs more of them.
And in lieu of double-digit sacks, a player on a 3-9 team needs a bit of a campaign to get there. Hicks likely will need better endorsements than he received from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on Thursday.
“Well, he’s been out there,” Fangio said when asked about Hicks’ Pro Bowl qualifications. “Availability is as important as any ability, and he’s been available. He’s been a consistent player. I think he definitely deserves consideration.”
With or without the recognition, Hicks has been one of the biggest success stories on the team — a player who produced after getting a four-year, $48 million contract extension ($30 million guaranteed) prior to the season opener.
“I attribute my level of play rising to one guy — Jay Rodgers, my defensive line coach,” Hicks said. “He just makes me better in a way that I’ve never had a coach do before. He stays on me [about my] technique. I’ve always been a more physical, stronger, just better guy when I’m on the field. Taking that mental approach to another level has been something I appreciate Jay Rodgers for.”
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