By Robert Zeglinski
BOURBONNAIS — A notably jubilant and always personable Akiem Hicks leisurely strolled up to the podium on Wednesday wearing a bright smile with his top linebacker, Jerrell Freeman, not far behind.
The atmosphere around Bourbonnais on the eve of camp’s first practice is loose, so who can blame Hicks for having a little fun?
Hicks, who enjoyed a breakout season last year with 7 sacks, is on the hunt for a contract extension and long-term future in Chicago. He’s in the last year of a two-year deal signed with the Bears in the 2016 off-season and based on his performance has earned more term with the team that unleashed him.
“I’m completely open to ending my career here,” said a measured Hicks on his status. “I’m interested in playing here for a long time.”
Without commenting any further on negotiations, Hicks says it’s about coming together as a team for him. Contract proceedings happen behind the scenes and a go-lucky Hicks is purely laser-focused on the Bears’ play.
There was a bit of comedic misunderstanding between Hicks and a reporter asking the two Bears’ defensive stalwarts about what it takes to field a competitive team, based on their previous experiences with the Colts (Freeman) and Saints and Patriots (Hicks). Hicks bristled at what he thought was a suggestion that the version of these Bears couldn’t compete.
“I was ready to flip the table,” laughed Hicks.
It’d be difficult for anyone to measure up to Hicks’ obvious comfort facing the music, but Freeman was at the ready. As the 31-year-old (“42-years-old” in Hicks’ eyes) recently saved someone’s life with the Heimlich maneuver at an airport right before reporting to camp, he knew all of the questions wouldn’t be pertain to football either.
The idea of the Bears’ “buying in” and “everybody being on the same page” took second fiddle to a heroic calling.
“It just needed to be done. If I weren’t there, someone else probably would’ve done it,” quipped Freeman.
He’s “making tackles and saving lives,” Hicks chimed in.
Not to be outdone, uncertainties surround the Bears offense too. Quarterback Mike Glennon and star tailback Jordan Howard expanded on those scenarios. With the selection of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2 overall, who could possibly fathom as to what the conversation would center around?
Glennon – who’s been in similar situations with young, promising quarterbacks nipping on his heels – didn’t flinch.
“There are a lot of driving forces in the NFL that motivate you. (Trubisky’s presence) doesn’t change my approach.”
The 27-year-old has waited a long time for this opportunity: to be an NFL starter at the beginning of a camp. This is a player that knows his days are likely numbered with the Bears no matter how well he plays in the mean time.
“It’s what I’ve dreamed of my whole life, to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.”
With backing from his teammates and a confident mentality that apparently exudes everywhere from the meeting room to the field, this is the perfect approach for the veteran to take. His time as Chicago’s starter could end after one week. But, as cliché as it sounds, he’ll merely control what he can control.
A quiet Howard reflected on how he could possibly improve upon a rookie season that saw him rush for 1,313 yards and earn a Pro Bowl berth. The answer? Better conditioning.
Howard said he came into last year not exactly physically ready, which is what partly held him back from starting right away or even rushing for more once he entrenched himself as the starter.
“I should’ve been in better shape.”
The jump from rookie to the heights Howard stands on will take even more work and he understands that. “I feel I can only get better, but I’ve got to put the time in.”
And you can bet he’ll be monitoring the progress of the man who finished with more rushing yards than him as a rookie, the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott. According to Howard, the two trained together before the 2016 NFL Draft and “definitely have a friendship.”
We’ll see how this friendship develops into a rivalry should Howard land his own jab and overtake his Dallas counterpart this year.
• Prized 2016 free agent acquisition Danny Trevathan is still recovering from a torn patellar tendon suffered last November. It’s still unknown if he’ll start camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list. As the Bears’ lead linebacker, Freeman knows what Trevathan will bring to the table whenever he returns.
“Danny is a good, young, athletic, three-down linebacker … it’s just good to have a guy there that can do it all.”
• Freeman loosened up in regards to the Bears’ lighter schedule.
“Yeah, I like the extra off day … it’s up and down. But when we’re out there (in practice) we have to work, we have to get better.” R.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears and he’ll be with the team all through training camp. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.