During the Eagles’ opening win over Atlanta last Thursday, linebacker Jordan Hicks could not, and was not allowed to, stop playing football. After it was over, he couldn’t stop smiling.
“Being a part of it and feeling the win … it’s been in my mind for a long time. It’s special to be back on the field,” Hicks said, and then he said it again. “It’s special.”
Hicks is one of the group of players – a group that includes Darren Sproles, Jason Peters and Chris Maragos – that missed the final chapters of the Eagles’ storybook Super Bowl tale. They were part of it, even though sidelined by injury, and they celebrated it, and they received rings for it, but they didn’t get to feel it. Not how it was to be out there and fight for the championship and feel it.
“When you’re [playing], you take it for granted. Making plays on third down and making sacks and interceptions, just regular plays, you take those things for granted,” Hicks said. “Having the ability now to get back out here and have fun and celebrate and have passion, no matter the situation, it just feels good.”
Hicks, the team’s middle and sometimes only linebacker, is in his fourth NFL season after being drafted in the third round by the Eagles in 2015. Two of his three previous seasons were cut short by injury. He suffered a torn pectoral muscle in his rookie year and played just eight games. Last season, he ruptured an Achilles tendon in the seventh game and was lost for the year.
The year in between, however, showed how Hicks can perform over a full season if he can stay on the field. In 2016, he led all NFL linebackers with five interceptions, and had 68 solo tackles and 95 combined tackles. That is the Jordan Hicks the Eagles are looking for this season, and it is also the player Jordan Hicks expects to be on display.
“When you feel good, you don’t think about [injury],” Hicks said. “I feel really good about it. I tested this thing over camp and the preseason. I didn’t miss a day and I felt great through the whole thing. There’s no doubt in my mind that my body is going to hold up.”
Coordinator Jim Schwartz apparently doesn’t have any doubts. The Eagles played 70 defensive snaps against Atlanta, and so did Hicks. The other three linebackers who saw action – Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nathan Gerry, and LaRoy Reynolds – combined for 55 snaps. Against Matt Ryan, the Eagles were often in nickel and dime coverage, with additional defensive backs on the field, but Hicks was always there. It could be that more of a rotation will occur in the middle when Nigel Bradham returns from his one-game suspension, but Hicks didn’t look like he needed much help.
“When he’s healthy and on the field, he makes us all better,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “He’s a versatile, smart player who wins at the point of attack and he’s a leader. We’re excited to see where we can go with him out there.”
Hicks led the team with seven combined tackles against Atlanta. He was also credited with 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits. On his solo sack, Hicks blitzed through the line and was met by Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman, but not for long. Freeman was knocked backward, went down hard, and Hicks swallowed up Ryan.
“They slid to Fletch [Fletcher Cox] and the A-gap opened up and he [Freeman] stepped up,” Hicks said. “It’s funny; I was watching film from last year and Nigel Bradham got a sack the same way. I knew I had to be physical when I was rushing and then Matt Ryan was right there.”
It wasn’t all smiles on Thursday. Hicks was flagged for illegal contact on what would have been the last play of the game, a fourth-down incompletion by the Falcons. That moved the ball to the Eagles’ 5-yard line and extended the game one more play, which could have made the difference in the outcome. Fortunately for the Eagles and Hicks, Ryan and Julio Jones couldn’t make the final connection.
“I didn’t like the call. I thought it was ticky-tack, but I still can’t put my team in that position,” Hicks said. “Fortunately, we’re built for stuff like that. We bend, but we don’t break.”
He could smile about it after the game, just as he could smile about everything. That didn’t stop when he got home Thursday night and saw his new son, Ayven Jordan Hicks, who was born Aug. 31, the day after the final exhibition game. Ayven is the first child for Hicks and his wife Ivana, whom he married in 2017.
“A lot of emotions have gone into this week. Becoming a father brings a new perspective,” Hicks said. “I’ve got a great wife who has done an awesome job, and a great support system to help her out that allowed me to focus on the game. Playing the first game back after a tough year for me personally was special. Then going home the first time and seeing your son after getting a win is an awesome feeling.”
It would probably be just as good the second time, and the third, and the 15th, too. Jordan Hicks can’t wait to find out, just as he couldn’t wait to get started once again.