True, but Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks made the most of his last impression.
In 2012, Hicks missed the final 10 regular-season games with a hip injury, then was suspended with quarterback Case McCoy for the Alamo Bowl due to a sexual-assault allegation. No charges were filed. Between that and the injury, Hicks was hungry and motivated for the 2013 season. However, he missed the final nine games with an Achilles injury.
Granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, Hicks — a former five-star recruit and the winner of the Butkus Award as the nation’s top prep linebacker — faced an all-or-nothing 2014 season.
“There was a difficult time,” Hicks said at the Scouting Combine, where he met with the linebacker-needy Green Bay Packers. “After the first injury, I thought, ‘I’m going to come back. I’m going to ball-out my next year and senior year. I’m going to try and get it and take off.’ I had a great mentality coming off that first one. And then I came back and had two in a row. I don’t know if it was a matter of me questioning whether I’m going to make it or not because I always believed if I stay healthy I can prove my ability. Going through that, you’re like, ‘Man, what’s wrong with me?’ You start to question, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ I did everything right going into that year because I wasn’t going to chance getting injured again and you just realize that a lot of things are out of your control.”
Keeping a positive mind-set, Hicks took advantage of his second chance to make a final impression. Hicks nearly doubled his career tackle production output in 2014. His 147 tackles not only ranked seventh-best in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks, but it was the most by any Longhorns defender since Winfred Tubbs recorded 157 tackles in 1992. He added 3.5 sacks, 13 tackles for losses and two interceptions to earn second-team All-American honors.
Hicks (6-1, 236) was selected to the Senior Bowl and had a strong Scouting Combine with a 4.68 in the 40, 38-inch vertical and 20 reps on the 225-pound bench press. According to position rankings provided by the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas, Hicks is the No. 7 inside linebacker prospect and a projected third- or fourth-round choice.
Working in Hicks’ favor is his versatility.
“I like him. I don’t know where I’m playing him but I like him,” a scout said.
In a 4-3 scheme, Hicks’ best fit would be outside linebacker, which he played as a senior after spending 2012 and 2013 in the middle. In a 3-4, he projects inside but could play outside.
“I’ve played both (schemes),” Hicks said. “I’ve played in so many different defenses. I’ve had four D-coordinators, four linebackers coaches in five years. Yeah, you can ‘Geez’ but, at the same time, it makes me versatile. I’ve seen a lot of different and been taught a lot of different techniques and styles. I’ve seen a lot.”
Hicks’ favorite linebacker to watch is Carolina’s tackling machine, Luke Kuechly.
“You watch him and he’s so crisp and so smart,” Hicks said. “Just plays hard every single play. Loves the game, you can just tell. I try to play with that type of intensity and that type of passion.”
Before he can play to that level, Hicks knows he must fix some holes in his game. With his attacking style meshing with Dom Capers’ attacking defense, he’d be an interesting fit alongside Green Bay’s Sam Barrington.
“I think we’re on the same page with what I need to get better at — using my hands, playing off of contact, continuing to just get better at the fundamentals of being a linebacker,” Hicks said of his conversations with scouts. “I think they also believe I have great instincts and I’m able to get to the ball.”firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.