Jordan Hicks gets it.
He understands the nature of the NFL. He picked up on the pace and the intricacies and the commitment needed. And he knew from Day 1 to prepare to be a starter, no matter how much playing time was forthcoming.
That preparation served Hicks well on Sunday when he stepped in for injured inside linebackers Kiko Alonso (knee) and Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) in the 20-10 loss to Dallas. Hicks played 54 snaps on defense (64 percent) and added 24 snaps on special teams (92 percent), and his workload is due to increase pending news on both Alonso and Kendricks, which head coach Chip Kelly did not provide at his day-after-game news conference on Monday at the NovaCare Complex.
No matter. Hicks will be ready when and if he's needed.
"When your number is called, you have to be ready to step up," said Hicks, who was credited with seven total tackles, a sack and a forced fumble (on the play on which Dallas quarterback Tony Romo suffered a fractured left clavicle). "It felt real good out there. We practice at a high pace, a high level. I think that's prepared me well. I prepared this week, last week like I was going to play. I was pretty confident going in."
A position that was stripped down to bare necessities in 2014 was fortified in the offseason with the addition of Alonso via a trade with Buffalo that sent running back LeSean McCoy to the Bills and the selection of Hicks in the third round of May's draft. Hicks suffered through some injury-riddled seasons at the University of Texas before having a standout final season.
He's grown up in a hurry in the NFL.
"Nothing changes for me (moving forward)," he said. "I've been preparing like I was going to go out there and play. I don't think because I wasn't playing as much in the first game (in Atlanta) and wasn't expecting to play as much in this game that my preparation should change. It's going to stay exactly the same and I'll prepare just as hard as I have been."
Hicks has impressed those around him in the inside linebacker room with his maturity and understanding of the way the league works.
"I think the young guy Jordan Hicks came in and stepped up when he was counted on to step up and play ball for us. He did a good job," linebacker DeMeco Ryans told SportsRadio 94WIP on Monday morning.
"He works with us every day. Jordan has been a guy who's really impressed me from the time he stepped onto the field. Just a really young, sharp guy, a really smart kid. He understands the defense, and he's a football player, man. I really like Jordan. I think he's really going to be a bright spot in the future."
The future could be now if either Alonso or Kendricks is out for Sunday's game at the Jets.