With Healthy Offseason, Jordan Hicks Hopes to Improve Run Defense

After playing in all 16 games of the 2016 season, Jordan Hicks hopes he finally shed that injury-prone label. 

Now, he's reaping the benefits. 

Hicks entered his second NFL offseason in a very different place than his first. This time last year, Hicks was still rehabbing from a torn pectoral tendon and subsequent surgery. 

This year? 

Well, Hicks has been able to attack the offseason and focus on getting better instead of just getting healthy. 

"It's huge," Hicks said on Tuesday, a day after the Eagles' offseason program began. "It's huge to get a full year, really just that playing time. First and foremost, that's probably the biggest thing. And then going into the offseason and just being able to train and let your body heal from the season. 

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"And then just pick up where you started and really build off of everything, not having to start off of square one and primarily focus on rehab. I've had that more times than not. It's really nice to be able to go into this thing confident. It does build your confidence just knowing that you've had that healthy season. You improved yourself in that area." 

Hicks won't turn 25 until June, but he has already put together two historic seasons for a linebacker. 

In his first two years in the league -- and in just 24 games -- Hicks has piled up seven interceptions (one returned for a TD), 14 passes defensed, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and two sacks. 

He's the fifth player in NFL history -- and the only linebacker -- with that many interceptions, fumble recoveries and forced fumbles in the first two seasons of his career. 

He's the first Eagle with seven interceptions in his first two seasons since Eric Allen in 1988-89. 

And there are only two members of the 2015 draft class who have seven interceptions: Hicks and Kansas City All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters (14). 

But Hicks entered his second offseason with the goal to get better, specifically against the run. While he has been dynamic in coverage, the young linebacker admitted toward the end of his second season that his run-stuffing ability needed to improve if his game was going to jump to the next level. 

Since he was rehabbing his left pec last offseason, Hicks wasn't able to strength-train as much as he would have liked. Obviously, building strength and becoming a better tackler/run-stuffer go hand in hand. 

"It's huge. It's huge," he said. "Because as a linebacker, especially in this defense, it's all taking on blocks, getting off blocks and making tackles. 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 is about the same weight, he thinks, but is stronger now than he was last year. "I cut easy," he said. 

In addition to having a healthy offseason, there's another rare occurrence happening for Hicks. He's about to enter the second year playing in the same defense. Hicks played under four different defensive coordinators in five years at the University of Texas and has played under two in his first two years in the NFL. 

So Year 2 under Jim Schwartz, especially as a middle linebacker, is a big deal. 

"This time last year it was all questions," Hicks said. "You didn't know what to expect. You had seen press conference 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. 

"You get a feel for the way he handles a game, the way he handles practice, 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." 

On Tuesday, Hicks was asked about getting the recognition, a la postseason awards, and said he thinks that will come naturally with time. If he can improve upon his first two seasons in the NFL, those types of accolades won't be far. 

Minutes after the 2016 season finale, his veteran teammate Malcolm Jenkins was asked how much potential Hicks had yet to reach. 

"S---. I mean, from where I see it, he's trending to be one of the better linebackers in this league," Jenkins answered. 

"And there's a lot of good linebackers out there. But you look at the stats and the way he plays, you can compare him to anybody else."

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