It's no coincidence that Akiem Hicks signed with the Bears a few days after they had opened free agency by inking inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman.
A veteran defensive end, Hicks wanted to become an integral part of an ascending defense and felt that the Bears provided the ideal situation.
"One of the biggest influences for coming here was knowing that they already were on the right path and trying to grow and get better," Hicks said after an OTA practice this week. "Just to be a part of building that was something that I wanted to be a part of."
Hicks signed with the Bears March 13, one day after Freeman and four days after Trevathan. Almost three months later, Hicks described the revamped Bears defense as "athletic and explosive," singling out the two new inside linebackers.
Akiem Hicks was selected by New Orleans in the third round of the 2012 draft when Bears GM Ryan Pace worked in the Saints personnel department.
"The way they come up and support you as a defensive lineman is just awesome," Hicks said.
Hicks spent his first three-plus NFL seasons with the Saints, appearing in 48 games with 33 starts and posting 6.5 sacks. He was selected by New Orleans in the third round of the 2012 draft when Bears general manager Ryan Pace worked in the Saints personnel department.
A regular starter since the beginning of his second season in 2013, Hicks was traded to the Patriots last Sept. 30 in part because the Saints had switched to a 4-3 defense last year and he wasn't a great fit.
"I had been moved to a 4-3 end," Hicks said. "I played 3-4 end previously, but there's not too many guys 340 pounds out there that play a 4-3 end. That was part of the turmoil that was going on in New Orleans at the time.
"Being able to get to New England and play something that my body type allows me to do, I think it showed on tape at the end of the day that I can still be effective, and I hope that's what Ryan Pace still saw from me when he brought me here to play this 3-4 end."
While it was difficult to join a new team three weeks into the regular season, Hicks benefitted from returning to his natural position. Playing in the final 13 games of the season and two playoff contests for the Patriots, he recorded 21 tackles and three sacks.
"You're way more comfortable when you're in your zone, your area," Hicks said. "It's just like putting me at corner. I have no business out there."
Hicks is excited to play for one of the NFL's top defensive coordinators in Vic Fangio and hopes to fill the role that end Justin Smith played in Fangio's defense with the 49ers.
"I definitely feel like that defense, they were able to rotate and bring guys in and disguise themselves and come from all different directions," Hicks said. "I won't pretend to know exactly how it's effective, but I've seen it work when I played them in New Orleans."
Hicks also won't pretend to know exactly how the Bears defense will fare this season, but he's certainly liked what he's seen so far during the offseason program.
"The things that I see in this defense are, first of all, everybody is athletic, everybody is explosive, everybody has a hunger to get things done," Hicks said. "Those factors are enough to make a good defense."