Akiem Hicks Braces for First Contact and Packers

Gene Chamberlain

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Hicks admits circling this week on the calendar partially because it's when he becomes eligible to return from injured reserve.

The other reason, of course, is a rematch with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

"Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks to play in this league," Hicks said Monday at Halas Hall. "You have to respect his capabilities while remembering that you’re here to put him on his back."

Bears coach Matt Nagy wants to throw cold water on all the Hicks returns to face the Packers talk, chiefly because that's what coaches do.

"The mentality for him is try to get stronger each and every day," Nagy said. "He hasn't been through any of the live stuff at all. Each day try to stay positive, try to get stronger and see where it takes us by the end of the week. But hopefully he'll be ready to go."

Hicks is already moving ahead in his own mind.

"There's some preparations that need to be made, some finishing, some cleaning up of things to do just to make sure I'm prepared to play and do what I need to do out there," Hicks said. "Just going about it like a regular work week."

When the real hitting starts on Sunday is when Hicks expects to know exactly where his elbow is at in recovery.

"Everything's going to come to light those first couple plays," Hicks said. "There's nothing like that first moment being back or stepping on the field, that first contact.

"You can simulate whatever environment you want but there's nothing like it."

The thought is Hicks' return will make Khalil Mack that much better of a pass rusher because it can remove the triple teams, if not some of the double teams the Bears' top rusher faces.

"When we get back in there, we'll see if anything changes from a standpoint of protection, how many guys need to tend to that guy when he's in there and when he's not in there, so I guess time will tell on that," Pagano said, hedging. Then he added of Hicks: "He can whip one block. He can whip two blocks. He can get push in the pass game, from a pass-rush standpoint. So it'll be good to get him back."

Facing the Packers in his return proved to be part of the rehab motivation for Hicks.

"I knew it was coming and prepared accordingly," he said. "One of the things I really focused on was just making sure my elbow was in the strongest place possible. We still have some finishing up to do and there's all these dates to make gains and get a little bit better. Just working on that."

The real work is beating the team the Bears eliminated from playoff competition last year while they clinched the NFC North title. Only this time, the Packers can eliminate the Bears with a win, if the Vikings also beat the Los Angeles Chargers.

Hicks pointed to the rivalry as the best he's ever been involved in and the only thing close in the NFL was Saints-Falcons.

"No, nothing's like Green Bay-Chicago, man," Hicks said. "It's just different. I think it's because we're in such close proximity."

He especially enjoys going to Lambeau Field because of the history involved, as the Bears will Sunday.

"One of my first games in the NFL, I played in Green Bay’s stadium," Hicks said. "One thing you can never take away from Green Bay is that they have a great deal of history."

Hicks had his only sack of a shortened season against the Packers in the season opener, the 10-3 Green Bay win at Soldier Field. He'd like to add to the sack total for the year with another of the same quarterback.

One of Rodgers' biggest strengths is what the Bears have to fear most.

"His ability to slip out of a sack, his ability to keep his eyes downfield," Hicks said.

The other motivation is being back with teammates who've fought back to win four out of five after losing four straight. Hicks had asked them to make his return a relevant game. 

Bears-Packers is always relevant, and this time it could mean the end of relevance for this Bears team in terms of the playoff chase if they lose.

"Isn't that beautiful, just to see the adversity and the grit and the fight that these guys had to go through," Hicks said. "And I couldn't help. To be in this position at this time in the season, you have to take advantage of it."

There are plenty of doubters who would tell Hicks it's too little, too late for the Bears. 

Hicks has a message for skeptics.

"It's too little too late for them, not for us," he said. "Everything's on the line."