By Chris Emma--
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- When he lines up, Akiem Hicks instantly stands out. In fact, it's hard not to notice No. 96 in white during Bears OTAs.
"He's a mountain," inside linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "You can't move him."
Then the ball is snapped, and Hicks springs to action. He's a quick one, too, immediately firing out of his stance and looking for his way to the football.
Hicks is aggressive and just plain nasty in the trenches. Meet the Bears' new 5-technique, who has a goal for the defense.
"To crush everybody," Hicks stated.
There's most certainly a new attitude at Halas Hall as the Bears work through OTAs, and newcomers like Hicks have been a huge part of that.
During this busy offseason, Hicks was quickly made a priority in free agency by Bears general manager Ryan Pace, who reached out to the Hicks camp during the legal tampering period. The Bears were desperate to sign the defensive end, believing he's the versatile, physical player that coordinator Vic Fangio seeks for his defense.
Hicks will play the 5-technique in base 3-4 defense and can also move inside in sub packages. Versatility is one of his greatest strengths.
"Honestly, that's all I've ever done," Hicks said. "I've always been that tweener kind of defensive lineman -- I can play on the outside, I can play on the inside. I can take on a double team, but I can also take an edge and get up field. That's what's appetizing to me about this defense, is I get a chance to do that."
The 26-year-old Hicks is entering his fifth season and still improving. He was a prized junior college transfer back in 2009 who was headed for LSU before unauthorized transportation and free lodging from the school resulted in recruiting violations and caused him to be ineligible. Instead, he played moved on to play at the University of Regina in Canada.
From Regina to the NFL, Hicks has flown under the radar. Had he stayed at LSU, Hicks would've been a known commodity. In Chicago, he could break out as a key cog to Fangio's front seven.
Bears guard Kyle Long recalls facing Hicks back in 2014. Now, the two will square off each day in practice.
"He's a great player," Long said of Hicks. "Gosh, he has improved leaps and bounds. He's just so creative now. He's got a lot of moves."
Added Hicks: "Iron sharpens iron."
The Bears believe Hicks is an ideal fit for their defense because of his ability to fill space up front, allowing their athletic linebackers to make plays, and he can also disrupt the backfield on his own.
Even in the NFL, it's rare to find the kind of versatility Hicks has.
"He's aggressive, but he's also instinctive and agile for a big guy," Trevathan said of Hicks.
Throughout his young career, Hicks has never produced the kind of numbers he's capable of. His best season was 2013, in which he recorded 56 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He was dealt from the Saints to the Patriots in 2015 and tallied three sacks in 13 games. That improvement began to show.
Joining a young, revamped defense has Hicks energized this offseason. Now that OTAs are here, he's thrilled to begin working. The new Bears defense has a contagious attitude in place.
"We're able to build something here," Hicks said. "That was appetizing to me -- to see a program that's looking to take that step forward and move in that direction -- to be a part of that."
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