Ever since Akiem Hicks hurt his elbow Oct. 6 in a loss to the Raiders in London, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle has had Dec. 15 circled on his calendar.
It's the date that Hicks can return to game action after missing eight contests while on injured reserve. The 6-4, 352-pounder was back on the practice field last week and intends to play Sunday when the Bears visit the Packers in Green Bay.
"It's a pretty specific date, so yeah, I knew it was coming and prepared accordingly," Hicks said Monday. "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."
Hicks' return would provide a giant boost for an injury-depleted Bears defense. The unit has also played without inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (elbow) and cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) and lost inside linebacker Roquan Smith for the season with a torn pectoral muscle early in last Thursday night's win over the Cowboys.
"The mentality for [Hicks] is, 'Try to get stronger each and every day,'" said coach Matt Nagy. "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 counting on that. And it's an extra bonus to him that the Bears remain alive—albeit slightly—in the playoff hunt, having won three straight and four of their last five games.
"Isn't that beautiful," Hicks said, "just to see the adversity and the grit and the fight that these guys had to go through, and I couldn't help. To be in this position at this time in the season, you have to take advantage of it."
Roster moves: With Smith being placed on injured reserve, the Bears signed linebacker Devante Bond, who has appeared in 29 games with six starts the past three seasons with the Buccaneers. Bond was selected by Tampa Bay in the sixth round of the 2016 draft out of Oklahoma.
The Bears on Monday also made two practice squad moves, signing defensive back Xavier Crawford and releasing linebacker Dewayne Hendrix.
Just for starters: With Amukamara unable to play against the Cowboys, second-year cornerback Kevin Toliver II made his first start of the season and second of his career.
Toliver registered seven tackles and one pass breakup, but he also got beat for an 18-yard touchdown reception by receiver Amari Cooper on a perfect throw by Dak Prescott.
"I liked the way that [Toliver] played," Nagy said. "We went in cover-0 on the play he got beat for the touchdown and Dak made a hell of a throw, dropped it right in the bucket. But for the most part, overall I thought it was good for [Toliver]. He got a chance to go out there and see what he could do. Every bit of experience that he can get is only going to help make him better down the road."
It's unclear whether Amukamara will be able to play Sunday against the Packers. More will be known Wednesday when the Bears return to practice and are required to submit their first injury report of the week.
Same message: The Bears (7-6) trail the Packers (10-3) by three games and the Vikings (9-4) by two with three weeks remaining in the race for the NFC North title. The Bears are also two games behind Minnesota and one in back of the Rams (8-5) for the second and final wild card spot in the NFC.
The Packers, Vikings and Rams all won their games on Sunday.
Nagy knows that the Bears have no one to blame for the position they're in but themselves and won't change his message to his players about only focusing on the task at hand.
"[Needing help], we've created that," Nagy said. "We're in a position now where we've got to have help. But none of that matters if we don't win. It means nothing. Let's just control what we can control. Let's win, do everything we can to win this week, see what happens, let it play out.
"Every week is so different. It always comes down to the end, and who knows in our situation what the case is. But none of that help stuff matters if you don't win."