The Bears may be getting some reinforcements for the last stretch of the season, in the form of defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.
Coach Matt Nagy expressed hope that Hicks, who has been out with an elbow injury since Week 5, will return to practice this week. Hicks is eligible to be activated off of injured reserve the following week and could play against the Green Bay Packers.
“I hope that’s what our focus is,” said Nagy. We’re hoping that he’s able to come back this week and start practicing, so that’s kind of the goal.”
A Pro Bowler last season, Hicks has been a dominating force on the defensive line since arriving as a free agent in 2016. In the eight games since Hicks went out, the team has recorded 11 sacks, the same number as in the first three games when Hicks was healthy.
However, the Bears might benefit as much from having Hicks’ leadership and personality back on the field as his pass-rushing.
“It’d be huge,” said Nagy. “Any time you have a guy that is the type of player he is, the type of leader he is, what he’s meant. I like the way he’s handled himself here in the last whatever it is, seven or eight weeks. He’s done a great job at being around and being a great teammate and a leader and mentor to all these younger guys.”
With the Bears at .500 for the first time in six weeks, Hicks’ return might be coming at the perfect time.
“It’s exciting when you get to this point,” said Nagy. “It does feel like forever ago, but hopefully we can get that moving forward.”
There are still a few question marks. Hicks battled a knee injury earlier in the season that kept him out of the Week 4 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Will he be physically ready to be a full participant at practice in the coming days?
“That I don’t know,” said Nagy. “I guess we’ll see.”
Miller has recorded 21 catches for 271 yards over that timeframe, accounting for more than half of his yearly total in both categories.
“He’s getting more opportunities, for sure,” Nagy said. “Now, with all that said, we want to make sure that we’re still honing in on the details.”
The details include things like ball-security, familiarity with assignments and situational awareness. Still, Nagy is impressed with the way the second-year receiver has taken advantage of his increased role.
“Numbers-wise, he’s done a good job,” said Nagy, “but we can all still improve in some areas, and he knows that. That’s gonna be important here moving forward, regardless of a stat line, that we make sure that on every play we’re doing the right thing all the time.
Nagy expressed confidence that Miller can continue to improve his consistency and learn from the people around him.
“I know he can be more detailed,” said Nagy, “and he will. I have all the trust in coach (Mike) Furrey and Allen Robinson being a great mentor. That’s what we’re striving for is perfection there in regards to details.”
Dispatch from Club Dub: After Thursday’s game, Nagy told the media that the atmosphere in the locker room had brought back memories of last season’s 12-4 run.
“It felt very authentic,” said Nagy. “It felt very real, guys were letting their personalities show and I know 6-6 and all that, but today we wanted to enjoy this moment.”
“When we talk about enjoying that five to seven minutes after a win, one thing is you don’t want it to be scripted. We know we have it when we win. There’s some that guys are just so exhausted after a game that it’s hard to celebrate too much or dance.”
Nagy said that the upbeat atmosphere was all the more meaningful because of the struggles that came before it.
“Yesterday, you just could kind of feel like, you know, through everything we’ve been through this year,” said Nagy. “It’s a different year, and that’s OK. But what we’ve been through, and just the way yesterday went, going down to the final play, it’s exhausting mentally and physically. And so you’re on a short week. You have lack of sleep. You have lack of energy.”
After an extremely short week leading into Thanksgiving last year, the few extra hours of preparation seemed to encourage a different attitude apparent even before kickoff.
“I knew from the start of the game,” said Nagy. “I knew from the locker room pregame. I could tell our guys were laser-focused. Last year, it felt different in the locker room pregame. It was coming off a night game. So, going back to your original question, you could just feel an organic fun.”
The road ahead: The Bears are now two and a half games back from division rivals Vikings and Packers, with four games left to play. While the playoff odds might be remote, the Bears will enter the month of December with meaningful games on the schedule.
“They’re aware of that because if you’re some teams and you end up getting officially eliminated,” said Nagy, “that’s a big challenge for a coach, to make sure that, ‘Hey, we’re still going here with X amount of games left.’”
Nagy credited his team with fighting their way into this position after being 4-6 less than a week ago.
“That’s why last night felt so good in that locker room,” said Nagy, “because we understand that we’re continuing to fight. Is it perfect? No. Can we be better? Yes.”
With this week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, at the same record, and with games looming against the Packers, Vikings, and Kansas City Chiefs, Nagy said that the team would not underestimate the challenge in front of them.
“We know we have our hands full the next coming games,” he said, “but as long as we just hone in on the Dallas Cowboys at home — and we’ve been doing that all year — who knows? We’re in a position where we need help. But none of that matters if we don’t handle our business.”