Eric Hicks' motor has impressed the Jets
Eric Hicks has found himself in a dramatically different place in the locker room food chain.
After a nine-year tenure with the Chiefs during which Hicks developed from an undrafted free agent into a team leader, the 31-year-old defensive end was given his walking papers from Kansas City on May 1 as part of the team's youth movement.
Three weeks later, the Jets signed Hicks, whose 44.5 career sacks were fifth on the Chiefs' all-time list. The man used to holding court and cracking jokes became another new face in a new place.
"Being around the league, guys know who you are," Hicks said after today's training camp practice. "It's not like being a rookie coming in, but it is different having spent nine years in Kansas City, that's really all you know. That's where I raised my kids, everything I've always known. It was tough the first couple of days, but the guys really embraced me and I'm having a lot of fun."
For Hicks, there was one very familiar face in the Jets locker room. Linebacker Eric Barton was his college teammate at the University of Maryland for three years. Hicks smiled while recalling Barton's first start against Wake Forest in 1995.
"I think Eric started every game there on out, so I knew he was going to be a good player," he said.
In Barton's eyes, Hicks was an upperclassman to look up to, someone with a work ethic he could try to emulate.
"He was always the hardest worker on the team. He always took pride in ... when Coach Mangini says one of the characteristics he likes is guys who care about football? Eric really, truly does care about football," Barton said. "He's always been that way since we were 17 years old."
After Hicks signed with the Chiefs in 1998, Barton joined Kansas City's rival, the Oakland Raiders, in 1999, providing an opportunity for the two friends to meet on the field twice a year.
"We used to always have dinner. It was an Oakland-Kansas City thing, a big rivalry. And we'd see each other probably once a summer," Barton said.
Now Hicks and Barton have been seeing a whole lot of each other in the summer, just as they used to at Maryland a decade ago when they participated in August practices together.
"That's made the transition a lot easier. Obviously, he and I are good friends. We have a lot of mutual friends from back at Maryland, so we see each other at functions there quite frequently," Hicks said. "It's kind of like old hat being around him. He's the same Eric Barton, always cracking jokes and everything so it's a lot of fun."
As far as his other teammates are concerned, Hicks has been solid in training camp. On one particular play during today's practice, he used his hands to get a nice first step around tackle Robert Turner during 3-on-3 pass-rushing drills.
"Getting to know him, I think he's a good addition," head coach Eric Mangini said. "I love his motor and toughness and his willingness to learn and take coaching."
Despite the abrupt change in location, a new locker room, and a new defensive scheme to learn, Hicks is very enthusiastic about his opportunity with the Jets. He believes the 3-4 defense will help extend his career and is used to competition for playing time.
"I was a free agent coming out, so I've been hungry my whole career. I had to battle for every dollar I earned and every play I got. I have no problem coming out and fighting for a spot," he said.
Even if that means letting former teammate Barton do all the talking in the locker room.