TAMPA ― Akiem Hicks makes his living chasing quarterbacks. He’s done it for 11 years, from New Orleans to New England to Chicago.
Perhaps that’s why the Pro Bowl defensive lineman isn’t ashamed to admit that this offseason his pursuit of one ended in Tampa Bay.
“Something I’ve thought often, you know when I came into the league, I had Drew Brees and Tom Brady as my first two quarterbacks,” Hicks said at mandatory minicamp Tuesday. “And then I went to Chicago, it wasn’t Drew Brees and Tom Brady. I feel spoiled. I feel spoiled to have somebody on the other side of the ball that can deliver all the time and he’s proven it over the years.”
“(Brady) was definitely a draw,” he added. “I would say it benefits a defense to have a quarterback who can control the clock, the ball and field position, and that’s what we have here.”
At 32, Hicks signed a one-year contract with the Bucs last week worth as much as $10 million with performance bonuses.
Regarded as one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL, Hicks began his career with the Saints as a third-round pick in 2012 and played in 2015 with Brady in New England before spending the past six seasons in Chicago.
With the Bears, Hicks played with quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton and Justin Fields.
But injuries limited Hicks to playing in only five games in 2019 and nine games in 2021.
Even so, the Bucs believe Hicks, listed at 6-foot-4, 352 pounds, will be the perfect batterymate for defensive tackle Vita Vea.
He is three years younger than Ndamukong Suh, who never missed a game in his career. But while Suh was counted on to play about 70 percent of the defensive snaps during his time with the Bucs, Hicks will be used as a starter and also a player to help develop rookie Logan Hall, the team’s 33rd overall pick from Houston.
Bucs coach Todd Bowles said he doesn’t have a snap count in mind for Hicks, who lined up with the starting defense Tuesday.
‘”He’ll step in and play as soon as he gets the playbook down,” Bowles said. “We’ll see how many reps. It all depends on the game — whether it’s no-huddle, whether it’s a long drive or anything like that. I don’t know the percentage yet, but he’ll play a lot.”
Hicks will be the perfect complement to Vea. Both use their power to push the pocket, although Hicks comes with an array of pass rush moves to make him better than Vea in that department. He owns 40.5 career sacks while Vea has 11.5 in four seasons.
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“I’ve been watching him for a couple years and one of the things I love that he does is push up the field,” Hicks said of Vea. “He disrupts that pocket quite a bit. And it’s something that guys that play with power, like myself, we admire.”
When Hicks is healthy, he will give the Bucs a more athletic presence on the defensive line. He also will add some snarl.
Bucs center Ryan Jensen, who played opposite Hicks two years ago in a 20-19 loss at Chicago, said Hicks plays with a disagreeable nature that gets under the skin of offensive linemen.
“He brings kind of that nasty factor,” Jensen said. “You need one of those guys on each side of the ball. ... Obviously, a player that’s done it for a long time and at a very high level.”
In addition to Hicks and Vea, the Bucs also have Hall, William Gholston and Rakeem Nunez-Roches on their defensive line to go with outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson.
Hicks doesn’t run from his recent injury history. Knee and elbow issues landed him on the injured list in 2019. Groin and ankle injuries erased eight games for him last season.
“I think it’s just a part of life. I think it’s a part of the life I’ve chosen,” Hicks said. “With football, you’re not going to leave the game without dealing with a certain amount of bang-ups and situations where it takes some of what you love to do away from you. But I would say that in understanding that, I’ve learned to appreciate and make sure I put myself in the best position to stay on the field.”
Hicks said he still is learning his way around the AdventHealth Training Center and remembering the names of players and coaches. But Brady is a familiar — and welcomed — face.
“I’m happy to be here,” Hicks said. “I’m happy to be back with Tom. I know with that quarterback position, you’ve always got a chance to win with a guy like that. That was one of my reasons for being here. Also, all the weapons we have on defense.”
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