Harbaugh cautious about Hester

Bears return man Devin Hester has a fan in Baltimore coach John Harbaugh. Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Devin Hester's decline in the punt return game has been stunning.

  • 2006: 47 returns, 600 yards, 12.8 average, 3 touchdowns

  • 2007: 42 returns, 651 yards, 15.5 average, 4 touchdowns

  • 2008: 32 returns, 198 yards, 6.2 average, 0 touchdowns

  • 2009: 23 returns, 186 yards, 8.1 average, 0 touchdowns

    Despite all the numbers, Ravens coach John Harbaugh -- a former special teams coordinator -- raved about Hester during a conference call Wednesday with Chicago media members.

    "We're just trying to figure out how we can defend him," Harbaugh said. "You have to take into account all the things he's done this year, and all the things they are as a unit. They're one of the best special teams units in the league.

    "You also have to take into account the things he's capable of doing, and the things he's done in the past. We feel like we're defending the seven or eight touchdowns he had a few years back, and all the things he's doing right now. Maybe he's not doing as much dramatically in the return game, but he's probably doing as much or more for that team."

    "As far as [Bears special teams coach] Dave [Toub] goes, I just have so much respect for him. I think he's one of the best football coaches in the National Football League. What he's done there with his unit is really historic. I'm really proud of him."

    Harbaugh and Toub worked together in Philadelphia, and Harbaugh's assessment of Toub is spot on. But he's being awfully generous when it comes to his views on Hester, who did not return punts or play last week because of a calf injury. Even if healthy Sunday, are the Bears better off going with Johnny Knox or Earl Bennett?