Life is good for Jordan Hicks. He's in his third season with the Eagles, his second as the defensive leader at middle linebacker. Hicks is the brains of the defense's operation and he's got big things in mind for the Eagles in 2017.
"We want to get better every single day so that in Game 1, we are ready to go. I believe that we can be a dominating defense, I really do," Hicks said. "I think we have what we need. It's going to come down to us putting in the work, putting in the time and nothing in this league comes easily."
Hicks had just come off the practice field at the NovaCare Complex and a quick visit with his new bride, Ivana. There isn't a whole lot of down time during Training Camp, so any chance to see loved ones is welcomed. Hicks, married in the offseason, is a happy and healthy man after breaking a bone in his hand during his honeymoon in Greece.
The injury didn't sideline Hicks. He spent 23 hours or so calling around and finding out the next steps to handle his injury after falling by a pool. He loved Greece and would cherish the chance to return some day.
But he's excited about this football season. The Eagles added cornerback Ronald Darby on Friday, a player the rest of the defense has watched.
"You can see his speed. You can see his burst and his playmaking abilities," Hicks said. "Yeah, you notice."
Hicks is a key cog as the player who relays the calls in the middle of the defense. A natural leader, Hicks took control of the defense as the Eagles moved to a 4-3 front and he went from an inside linebacker to the man in the middle. Hicks stayed healthy all year, got in 16 starts, and had a terrific season as the defensive front funneled everything inside.
"It was a natural change for me, a good one," he said. "We put some pieces in place last season on defense. I think we can take a step forward now."
To do so, well, a lot of things have to go right. Darby adds a higher level of athleticism and playmaking ability at cornerback. The front four, coming off a dominating preseason opener in Green Bay, should be among the best in the NFL. Hicks is flanked by Mychal Kendricks on the weak side and Nigel Bradham on the strong side, so he's got familiar faces around him.
The pieces are in place, indeed.
"High hopes, for sure. We all believe we're heading in the right direction," Hicks said. "It's exciting, having everyone together for another season. We're deeper into the defense. It's going to be a lot of fun and it's going to take a lot of hard work to play our kind of football."
Keeping Hicks healthy and on the field is a key for the Eagles' defense. He's a ball hawk and he flows so fluidly to the football and with that front four attacking, Hicks is ready to gain some league-wide notice. Pro Bowl? It's not out of the realm of possibility. The Eagles don't blitz Hicks very much, but he gets his hands on the football and he makes plays. Having a disruptive, attacking defensive line means that Hicks has to press the line of scrimmage and not allow creases to be exposed.
Midway through the preseason, the days are repetitive. The exhaustion level is high with long and physical practices the norm.
The payoff is right around the corner.
"Nobody was happy with 7-9 last season. That's not acceptable. At the same time, I feel like we turned a corner," Hicks said. "We had some stability and we made some strides as a team. But we also lost a lot of close games and we didn't finish out games. That's the next step. You play in a lot of winnable games in the NFL and the teams that have the most success go out and close strong. They win those games."
The Eagles were 1-6 in one-score games last season. They were 1-7 on the road in 2016. Improve in both areas and the question in the NFC East becomes: Why not the Eagles?
"I'm not there yet," Hicks said. "No looking ahead. We are taking it day by day and then we'll see where we are. Let's just keep getting better and let's stay healthy and we will be ready for the regular season.
"I think everyone knows what we're capable of doing, the kind of team we can become. Saying it and thinking it is one thing. You have to go out and do it."