METAIRIE, La. — It’s not that Akiem Hicks doesn’t believe in himself.
That the first-team snaps he’s getting in practice aren’t some sort of vision into the future.
But for Hicks, 23, he still believes he's a youngster fighting his way onto the Saints roster.
“Nothing’s written in stone,” Hicks said. “I’m going to come out here and work hard every day to prove myself as a young player.”
Of course, that could just be Hicks’ background coming through.
The one-time LSU recruit was booted from school when officials found an NCAA violation that resulted in his ineligibility and the firing of assistant D.J. McCarthy. That led to a stint working at a Direct TV call center.
Eventually he landed at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada.
In other words, perspective isn’t something Hicks is lacking. So, working with the first-team defense in training camp practices means little to him as far as job security.
“(Defensive line coach) Bill Johnson) often says you have a jar, right? And you put a bean in it every day,” Hicks said. “You do some good work, you put a bean in it. Some more good work, put a bean in it. I don’t have enough beans to be encouraged yet.”
It’s that perspective, along with his undeniable work ethic, that teammates have taken notice of.
“He had a tough deal going there,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “I think when you have a situation like he had, you kind of come to a crossroads in your life and you can take two directions. One is pretty negative and one is pretty positive and to his credit, he took the positive route. He went up there and he worked hard.”
Because that work was in Canada, though, it was hard for teams to determine just how much talent Hicks contained.
Had Hicks played at LSU, Johnson said, the scouting would have been easy.
“It wasn’t like if he had went to LSU and stayed,” Hicks’ position coach said. “You could evaluate him against guys who would potentially be in this league. It was like guys that were just little kids and he was obviously dominating up there.”
Still, the Saints gambled under then-defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and took him in the third round with the 89th overall pick. He played in 14 games as a rookie, finishing with 32 tackles and a forced fumble. He spent time working inside at defensive tackle in New Orleans’ 4-3 defensive scheme.
Now he’s at defensive end in new coordinator Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense. And thus far into camp, he is proving to that he once again can adapt to the situation at hand.
Tuesday’s practice provided a perfect example of what Hicks can do when he puts everything together.
During the second period of 11-on-11, Hicks beat Strief, getting to Drew Brees, where he “barked” the quarterback to the ground.
“I was barking at him the whole time because I know very well that I can’t get within two steps of Drew,” Hicks said.
Then, during a two-minute drill in which the winning side didn’t have to run conditioning sprints, Hicks made two more plays. First, he batted down Brees’ pass on first down. Four plays later, he read a screen pass to Darren Sproles perfectly, tackling the speedy running back for a four-yard loss.
“He’s a good athlete that weighs 330 pounds that moves like he’s 300 or 290,” Strief said. “That’s something pretty God-given that’s pretty hard to find.”
Added Johnson, “He has lined up at that left end position and that’s the most physical position of our defense. And, I mean, the guy is just doing a good job and getting better.”