CHICAGO – As a rookie, he was one of the first guys in the National Football League to really look up to, since he was directly in front of him on the depth chart.
Bilal Nichols did his best to spell Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks in his rookie season and provided the team with another strong defensive lineman. But he got to do that in a reserve role, with Hicks doing most of the work in front of him on a top-rated Bears defense.
Nichols won’t have that luxury for most of the 2019 season.
With a dislocated elbow putting Hicks on IR and out till mid-December at the least, the second-year defensive end will be pressed into his starting role this week as the Bears’ host the Saints at Soldier Field on Sunday.
“It’s hard man,” said Nichols of seeing Hicks injured. “He pretty much molded me into the player I am.”
He’ll do so after missing the last three games after breaking his hand against the Broncos, making it more of a challenge for Nichols as he must fill a major role in the Bears’ defense. He’ll wear a brace on his hand, which will be something much different than he was used to playing back in his rookie year of 2018.
That’s when Nichols made a name for himself in 14 games, making 28 tackles with three sacks and two forced fumbles as Hicks’ back-up. He knows that playing with the hand-cast will be a bit different, so he’s asked linebacker Leonard Floyd how he did it last year after breaking his hand. Nichols said he’s given him a lot of insight, but it’s still gonna be an adjustment.
“I’ve never had a hand injury, so this is new to me,” said Nichols. “As a defensive lineman, that’s what you need you hands for. So it’s new to me. I ain’t gonna cry about it. I’m just going to work with it.”
Doing so for the first time in his career without a Pro Bowler in front of him.