Akiem Hicks ready to step up at DE

METAIRIE, La. – New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton have a history of pulling hidden gems out of the middle of the draft.

They’ve found guys like guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, who went on to make Pro Bowls. Now, it looks like another mid-round pick will get a chance to shine.

With Thursday’s news that defensive end Kenyon Coleman likely will miss the season with a pectoral injury, second-year player Akiem Hicks appears likely to be headed for a starting spot. Hicks was a third-round pick out of the University of Regina (Canada) last year.

Hicks was part of the rotation at defensive tackle last season and made 32 tackles. But, as the Saints switched to a 3-4 scheme this offseason, Hicks has been getting work at all three defensive line positions.

“I’ve been working at nose guard and defensive tackle since the beginning of OTAs,’’ Hicks said. “I really am (ready to focus on defensive end). I’ve done it my whole career, so I’m pretty comfortable with it.’’

But Hicks said he’s sad about Coleman’s injury, which happened in Tuesday’s practice.

“That was a freak accident,’’ Hicks said. “You don’t want to see that for anybody. You don’t want to see that on your team and you don’t want to see it on the opposing team. Nobody likes to see that happen.’’

Still, Coleman’s absence will give Hicks a chance to win a starting job.

“I think it creates opportunities for everybody to get a little bit better, get more reps and fit into the system more,’’ Hicks said. “There’s more room.’’

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has said defensive end is the second-most important position on the defense after nose tackle. Hicks said he’s ready for that challenge.

“You’re an anchor for the defense,’’ Hicks said. “I take that as a big responsibility and I plan on doing my job.’’