Hicks up to challenge against NFL's best ends

Artis Hicks has given a solid accounting as the Vikings' fill-in starting left tackle and has one more challenge before Bryant McKinnie returns from suspension. See what Hicks had to say about the four-game test and how much help he is getting compared to McKinnie.

The end of the ends is in sight for Artis Hicks.

Hicks has had a wild ride while filling for left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who has one more game to serve on his four-game suspension. While Hicks is expected to see his four-game fill-in status end after the Vikings' game Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, that's not before one last go-round with another pretty good defensive end, two-time Pro Bowler Kyle Vanden Bosch.

So far, Hicks has faced a combination of Cullen Jenkins and Kabeer-Gbaja-Biamila with the Green Bay Packers, Dwight Freeney with the Indianapolis Colts and Julius Peppers with the Carolina Panthers – all except Jenkins being Pro Bowlers over recent years.

"That kind of tells you a little bit about this league and defensive ends. A lot of people put and invest a lot of money in that right defensive end because that is the quarterback's blindside, and on the flip side offenses invest a lot of money in that left tackle," Hicks said. "So it can only make me better. That's the approach I take toward it. And I just try to go out there and battle the guys. I try to study 'em real good during the week and just go out there and fight on Sunday."

In three games, the Vikings have given up six sacks. The league average is 6.6 sacks after three weeks of play. The lone sack in Week 1 came from the right side of the Minnesota's offensive line when Aaron Kampman stunted inside and wasn't picked up. In Week 2, one of the three sacks surrendered to the Colts came from Hicks' responsibility – right defensive end Dwight Freeney, the toughest assignment for Hicks so far this season, he said.

"The quickness and he's low to the ground, low center of gravity," Hicks said of the Colts' all-time leading sacker with 62. "He runs like a frickin' DB (defensive back). Looking back at the game, I wish I could go back and do some things differently, but that's why you play this game."

Last week, Hicks got to square off with Julius Peppers, who got one sack of Gus Frerotte, to bring his career sack total to 57. Hicks said going against Vikings defensive end Jared Allen in practice at times earlier this year helped prepare him a bit for Peppers, who he said has a similar body type.

"Peppers was a taller guy, listed at 6-6 and I know Jared's around that height. So it kind of gave me a good idea where my target was going to be as far as me punching him in the pads or punching him in the shoulders," Hicks said. "But the week before when I played Freeney it was a different story because Freeney's probably about 6-foot, 6-1, so the target was a little bit lower. So we used a couple receivers to help us out with that."

Hicks said there isn't a week that a left tackle gets much of a break in the NFL.

"Not in these four weeks here. It's been a battle in, battle out against the best guys in the league. I look forward to it. It can only make me better, only give me confidence if I go in there and handle my own, do a pretty good job against them. The last three weeks I feel like I did OK. I know there is a lot of stuff I can get better at. It's making me a better player, though, no doubt."

Hicks said he is probably getting more help than McKinnie would get while taking on some of the best pass rushers in the league.

"There are a lot of situations where they try to chip with a back or maybe put a tight end over there and get a chip and release. I don't know if Big Mac would maybe get as much attention, but you've still got to account for these guys, these defensive ends," Hicks said. "I don't care who the left tackle is. I know there would be some help because there is a lot of attention put on these defensive ends. If you let them get going, they could shut a game down by themselves. Seriously."

Head coach Brad Childress said Hicks was joking in the locker room after the Panthers game, wondering if he could get an athlete to play against. This week, it's the Titans' Vanden Bosch that the Hicks get to challenge in what could be his final action at left tackle.

"It's not going to slow down to my knowledge. That's a very good defensive front with the little bit that I've seen of it," Childress said. "So I just expect him to continue to keep competing and he has done a good job of that."

Vanden Bosch isn't as well-known to the casual NFL fans, but Hicks said he is an intense player who will pursue plays from the backside. That shows in the stats, as Vanden Bosch has three of the top 10 season totals for tackles among Titans defensive linemen in the last three decades.

"He's more a high-intensity, just flying-around motor guy. When you watch defensive ends, they rush up the field, they play back inside and try to get your quarterback, but he's the kind of guy that will try to make a play on the opposite side of the line. He'll try to run stuff down," Hicks said. "If you have a lapse in focus, he'll beat you to the ball just with hard work. He's a hard-work, high-motor, high-intensity guy."

The majority of Hicks' action since joining the Vikings has come at right guard, but he played some left tackle with the Philadelphia Eagles and he learned that some of the defensive ends that he faces at that position might weigh 275 to 285 pounds, but they can run like linebackers. Eventually, he's just got to put on the helmet and pads and compete.

"What you've got to realize in this game, as an NFL player and especially as an offensive lineman, in every game it's going to come to a point where you've just got to fight," he said. "It's going to come to he's trying to whoop me, I've got to whoop him. It's going to come down to a fight. The technique might not be there every time, it might not be great, but it's going to come to a point in the game where you're dog tired, game's on the line, crucial down and distance, and you've just got to dig deep, bow up and fight. And I think that's my approach. That's the mindset I have."

That could change next week, when McKinnie rejoins the team and is expected to assume his starting position, and Hicks will have to balance his competitive spirit with his friendship with McKinnie.

"That's not my decision. I never worry about stuff I can't control," he said of who will start Oct. 6 against New Orleans. "It's kind of a double-edged sword. Byrant's a good friend of mine, and I love him like a brother. I want to see him come back and have a Pro Bowl year, but it's going to mean I move around a little bit."

NOTES

  • Hicks played his college ball at Memphis and grew up in Jackson, which he said is about 1½ hours from the Titans' home in Nashville. His wife Jaivonna is from Nashville, and Hicks expects he'll need to come up with 30 to 35 tickets for the game. "It's going to feel like a home game to me in a lot of ways," he said.

  • The Vikings are just above the league average with seven sacks this season. Five of them came Sunday against the Panthers.

  • Childress was asked if he is more relaxed after getting his first win of the season. "We are playing a team that is 3-0 this week, so (there is) nothing relaxing about that," he said.


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