BOURBONNAIS – As he stands on the sideline watching the Bears’ offense take shape, Devin Hester could feel angry. Or bored. Or both.
But Hester is anything but bummed with his new job description. He’s happy. He’s excited.
“I like it,” Hester said with a smile Tuesday. “I’m enjoying it. I’m not complaining.”
After all, Hester was in on the plan from the start.
Goodbye, offense. See you later, wide receiver. Adios, route trees.
Hello, special teams. Hey there, kick returns and field goal blocks. Hope to see you again soon, NFL record book.
So much for Hester’s departure from the offense being a touchy subject.
“I don’t know where y’all are getting these stories from that it was on the coaches,” Hester said. “It was pretty much my decision. I feel comfortable with it.
“The coaches and [myself] came to an agreement. We feel comfortable with the situation we’re in right now. We’ve got some nice receivers that are able to step up and make plays. So, you know, let me get back to doing what I’m great at.”
We all know what Hester is great at doing.
No player in NFL history has scored more kick return touchdowns than Hester, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who has scored on 12 punt returns and five kickoff returns. Throw in a return touchdown on a missed field goal in 2006, and Hester is one shy of Deion Sanders’ all-time total return touchdown record of 19.
Yet as Hester stepped in to a more prominent role as a wide receiver in the Bears’ offense, he quickly went from fantastic to frustrating. In six seasons – more than enough to evaluate a player – he averaged 36 catches for 467 yards and two touchdowns.
Too often, Hester’s struggles seemed to be contagious. He failed to score on special teams last season, which marked his third goose egg in the past five years (2012, 2009, 2008).
So, Hester and the Bears agreed: Ditch the double duty. Focus on your strengths.
“I wanted to get back to the return game, to being where I was,” Hester said. “It’s tough being a receiver as well as a return man. It’s never really been done in the NFL. You have Steve Smith and Santana Moss and guys like that try to do it. But with the legacy that we’ve built around this organization on the return game, I wanted to go ahead and stick to that.”
Because while Hester (mostly) said all of the right things during the past few seasons about serving as a wide receiver and a kick returner, the truth is that he was gassed.
“It’s tiring,” Hester said. “What guy do you know can go out and play 50, 60 plays of offense and be as effective as a return man as they can? Second quarter, your legs are shot. You’re not really peaking at 100 percent of speed.
“It wears down your body throughout the whole week. And then trying to go in the game and do 50, 60 plays on offense as well as returns, it’s pretty much impossible. I’ve never really seen a guy that can do that – and last.”
Now, with all of his extra energy, Hester has taken to lining up on defense for field goals. During the Bears’ final practice of training camp, he lined up on the edge and practiced taking sharp angles toward the kicker.
“I’m hoping to get a couple blocks this year,” Hester said. “Any kind of way you can help out the team. We could win off a field goal block.”
Hester knows this from past experience.
See: U, The.
“I blocked a key field goal against Florida State to win the game,” said Hester, a former standout with the Miami Hurricanes. “I recovered one and took it to the house in the Peach Bowl. So, I’m trying to contribute any kind of way I can on special teams.”
But not on offense.
And thus concludes the strangest, most refreshing camp of Hester’s eight-year career.
“I can tell you this,” Hester said. “I came out a lot fresher without any nagging injuries. That’s the most important thing right now is to come out to start the season off without any small or nagging injuries.
“Right now, I’m ready to go.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.