Mark Busch – mbusch@shawmedia.com
Mark Busch – mbusch@shawmedia.com

LAKE FOREST – The Bears locker room at Halas Hall was more lively than usual Thursday, with players hooting and hollering after practice. Akiem Hicks, especially, had good reason for his wide smile.

“I probably had more fun than most because it’s been a while since I’ve been able to have that type of activity,” Hicks said of Thursday’s practice.

The Bears’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle has been on injured reserve since mid-October with a dislocated left elbow. Hicks wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s definitely playing in Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers, but he sure sounded like a football player who is preparing for game action.

“I’m not going to go out and make any declarations,” Hicks said. “I’m going to say that I’m going to do my best to be available to play football for the Chicago Bears this Sunday.”

A stint on injured reserve requires a minimum of eight weeks before returning to action. This week is the earliest Hicks could play again. Hicks last played on Oct. 6 against the Oakland Raiders in London.

“[I feel] really good,” Hicks said Thursday at Halas Hall. “It’s a tough situation to take your athleticism from an athlete. So for the first few weeks, I couldn’t really run around, I couldn’t really do the things I was accustomed to doing. Now that I’m getting back into the flow of things, I’m starting to feel my body waking up and getting back to being an athlete again. So it’s a good feeling.”

Hicks on Thursday shared his thoughts on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers run game. Even if the Bears won’t say Hicks is playing Sunday, he gave the impression he has spent more time focused on Green Bay than focused on his elbow.

That’s a good sign for the Bears, who are still going to take it slow.

“It’s just a matter of watching him on tape, watching him in practice, getting a feel, communicating with him, talking to him, seeing how he’s doing,” Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said.

Hicks said he did “a lot of running around” once he was cleared for initial activity a few weeks ago. Pagano credited the Bears training staff for helping Hicks take care of his conditioning, in addition to his elbow.

“There’s nothing like football shape,” Pagano said. “So until you get the pads back on and get out there and play, time will tell. I think it’s just constant dialogue.”

Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who will return to Green Bay for the first time since the Packers traded him last year, said he’s excited for what Hicks’ potential return means for the Bears defense.

“He’s one of our veteran leaders,” Hicks said. “He keeps the D-line pumped up, he keeps us together on the back end. It’s definitely a plus, having him out there.”

The Bears remain a top defense in the NFL, even with Hicks sidelined. His return will make it that much more difficult for opposing teams to run the ball against the Bears. It could open things up for Khalil Mack, too, who has garnered much of the attention of offensive lines with Hicks out.

With playoff hopes on the line over the next three weeks, Hicks’ potential return could be coming at an opportune time.