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Bears’ Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd not bad for starters in 2018 debuts

The Bears’ first-team defense was shaky at best in its preseason debut Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. But for two cornerstones, defensive end Akiem Hicks and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, it was a pretty good start.

Even as the Bears’ starting defense — minus linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback Prince Amukamara and first-round draft pick Roquan Smith — was allowing 139 yards and two touchdowns on 16 plays in a three-series stint, Hicks and Floyd were noticeably effective and did nothing to dampen training camp indications that both are on pace for a productive season with Pro Bowl potential in 2018.

“I’m a monster. I like that,” Hicks said.

“I felt good. I’m looking forward to the next game already,” Floyd said.

Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman (91) helps corral Bengals running back Giovani Bernard in the first half of their preseason game Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium. | Gary Landers/AP photo.

Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (left) and nose tackle Eddie Goldman (91) help corral Bengals running back Giovani Bernard in the first half of their preseason game Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium. | Gary Landers/AP photo.

Coming off back-to-back stellar 16-game seasons since signing with the Bears in 2016 — seven sacks in 2016, 8.5 and 15 tackles-for-loss last season — Hicks is on automatic pilot as he heads into his seventh season in the NFL and fifth as a full-time starter.

“It was definitely good to get back out there and get back in the swing of things, as far as live action’s concerned,” Hicks said. “Just getting out and competing against somebody other than your own teammates. All the same stuff that happens every season. You just get that first taste and enjoy it.”

Floyd, on the other hand, is almost coming from the opposite end of the spectrum. The former first-round draft pick played missed four games as a rookie and six games last season with injuries. He’s been productive when healthy — seven sacks as a rookie, 4.5 last season. But where Hicks is in a routine, Floyd is still learning and growing, with a high ceiling and a lot to prove. His pressure on Andy Dalton played at least a part in Kyle Fuller’s interception and 47-yard return for a touchdown in the first quarter Thursday night.

“I felt good just to get out there and get my feet wet. I haven’t played since I got injured [Week 11 vs. the Lions last season],” Floyd said. “I just wanted to go as hard as I could. Whatever mistakes I made, I wanted to make sure I made a mistake going 100 miles an hour.”

As a unit, the Bears’ defense made one big play — Fuller’s interception return — but was otherwise off its game as the Bengals drove 64 yards on six plays and 75 on nine plays for touchdowns in the first quarter. Poor tackling was one issue — not a big surprise in the first preseason game considering how little tackling is done in camp. In particular, linebacker John Timu and safety Adrian Amos missed tackles that sprung Joe Mixon for a 24-yard touchdown reception.

“When our first-team defense is out there, we want to be unstoppable,” Hicks said. “We want to be punishing. We don’t want to let drives extend the way they did. So we need to improve the little things that allowed them to score.

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They obviously left a lot of room for improvement. But a defense that ranked 10th in the NFL in yards, 11th in yards per play and ninth in points allowed in 2017 has earned the right to not be too concerned over one game.

“As you could probably tell, we’re a little rusty right now,” Floyd said. “But we’ve got three more games to get ready for the first [regular-season] game.”

“You have to keep things in perspective. But we have to be the hardest on ourselves,” Hicks said. “We don’t want anybody to score the whole game, let alone two in the first half. You just gotta say, ‘Let’s go back home and look at the film and say, ‘How are we going to keep these guys out of our end zone.”

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