A Bigger and Stronger Jordan Hicks Returns to lead Eagles Defense
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Jordan Hicks has been incredibly productive during his first two seasons in Philadelphia, compiling eye-popping numbers for a linebacker in today's NFL environment.
The most eye-popping of all, however, from a personal standpoint was 16 as in the 16 games the now third-year player toiled in during the 2016 season.
That's a significant step forward for a player who had been tagged with the injury-prone label dating back to his time at the University of Texas and through a rookie year cut in half with a torn pec muscle.
A healthy Hicks spoke to the media at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday looking bigger and more equipped to handle the middle linebacker position moving forward.
"It's huge," Hicks said when asked about the difference from last year when he was rehabbing and now. "It's huge to get a full year, really just that playing time. ...And then going into the offseason and just being able to train and let your body heal from the season.
"And then just pick up where you started and really build off of everything, not having to start off at square one and primarily focus on rehab."
In his first 24 professional games, Hicks has shown a nose for the football and an IQ for the position that are off the charts, amassing seven interceptions, 14 passes defended, four fumble recoveries and two sacks, rare production for a LB not named Luke Kuechly.
To highlight just how rare, Hicks is the fifth player in NFL history with those types of numbers through two seasons and the only linebacker despite missing the eight games. Meanwhile, in his draft class, the only other player to have seven-plus INTs over the two-year span is Kansas City star cornerback Marcus Peters.
And now Hicks, who will turn 25 in June, and has been able to build his body for the rigors of his position for the first time.
"In this defense, it's all taking on blocks, getting off blocks and making tackles," Hicks explained. "Defensive line is going to be disruptive but you're going to have to take on blocks to be able to get tackles. Being able to have that offseason and go into it healthy and not have to worry about rehabbing and starting off at square one is huge. Strength-wise and being able to punch and shed."
Hicks looked bigger to the naked eye on Tuesday but claimed his weight is the same, only his strength is up.
Another aspect Hicks is excited about is being in the same defense for the second consecutive year. He estimated he's been in six different systems dating back to his college days and the comfort of stability has rarely been there for him.
"This time last year it was all questions," Hicks said. "You didn't know what to expect (with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz). You had seen press conferences and had seen who he was through little snippets, but you didn't know him. Or I didn't know him, didn't have that type of relationship I have now."
Hicks didn't even know where he would be playing as most perceived his body type to be best suited for the weak side in Schwartz's defense but Hicks was needed in the middle, something that won't be changing in 2017.
"You get a feel for the way (Schwartz) handles a game, the way he handles practice," Hicks said when discussing the stability. "His expectations going into certain situations and that communication and that ability to kind of read each other's mind and where we want to be and where we want this defense to be. We can only go up."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen