The Bears on Sunday opened Pro Bowl DE Akiem Hicks' 21-day practice window to be activated from injured reserve or shut down for the season with the dislocated left elbow he suffered in Week 5. Hicks is first eligible to play in two weeks, when the Bears visit the rival Green Bay Packers in Week 15.
"It was good. It was nice to see him out there on the field," Matt Nagy said Sunday after the Bears began preparations to host the 6-6 Dallas Cowboys Thursday night in a must-win game for both reigning division champions. "He's been on the sidleines, he's popping in and out. He's been around in meetings and all that. He's never left us. We've felt him, which is great. But to see him actually out there on a very kick-back tempo type of practice was really good."
Prior to Sunday, his first day of practice eligibility while on short-term injured reserve, Hicks' most recent practice participation came 58 days ago, when the Bears were 3-1 and coming off their best defensive performance of the season.
Riding high following their Week 4 victory over the Minnesota Vikings sans Hicks and Roquan Smith, the Bears welcomed back the Pro Bowl defensive lineman from a knee injury suffered two weeks earlier in Washington that forced him to miss his first game as a Bear.
Hicks' return in the London loss to the Oakland Raiders lasted only eight snaps, thanks to a grisly dislocated left elbow that led to his I.R. trip and seven-game absence. The Bears said Hicks was unavailable to meet with reporters following Sunday's practice, but he's expected to address the media Monday.
His return Sunday inside the Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall comes with the Bears again riding high, winners in three of their past four games and coming off perhaps their best offensive output of the season in the Thanksgiving victory over the Detroit Lions.
Of course, now 6-6 with likely no remaining room for error, the Bears are feeling a great deal more urgency accompanying this go-around with Hicks. But would Chicago risk activating one of its most important players if its playoff hopes are already vanquished, potentially Thursday by the Cowboys?
"If Akiem is ready to play and ready to go for the Green Bay Packers game, then regardless of anything we want him to be able to play," Nagy said.
So Bears brass already has decided potentially getting back Hicks, albeit likely at slightly less than his best, outweighs the option of shutting him down for good to help ensure Hicks is his usual self for what's shaping up to be a make-or-break 2020 campaign for this regime.
The Bears still boast one of the top stop-units in football but obviously have sorely missed their best D-lineman, whose absence coincided with them surrendering two 100-yard rushers — the same number as in the previous 22 games combined — and enduring a significant drop-off in pass-rush production.
Roy Robertson-Harris is among the Bears' pass rushers whose numbers have fallen off the sharpest. He has only 2.5 sacks, and none since Week 4, when the Bears played inspired in their first game sans Hicks since his 2016 arrival.
"To see his joy of just being back out there with us is always good to see," Robertson-Harris told Bears Insider Sunday. "Obviously it’s been a long season for him not being able to play with us, but he’s definitely happy, he’s out there with us and he’s enjoying his time. I think [it can be contagious] for the rest of the D-line. He’s got big energy, he’s got a big personality, so that [rubs off] a lot on us. I think it’ll be good."