- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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LOMBARD, Ill. -- Just after Devin Hester stepped off a stage in the Dick’s Sporting Goods parking lot, he was given the news: The Chicago Bears drafted a receiver, Alshon Jeffery, in the second round of the NFL draft.
Like the rabid Bears fans who came out to see him, Hester said he knew that move was coming, and just like the fans, he's happy the Bears got a big target. It's been a long time coming.
“We need at least five or six solid receivers with this type of offense that we got,” he said at an event to promote Nike’s new football jersey. “We knew that we were going to go into this draft and get another receiver. We know, as players, that we need another guy. In this league, guys get hurt, left and right, and the more you preserve your players, alternate in and out, the longer they last.”
The days of forcing Hester into a No. 1 receiver role are gone. Now the Bears have a legitimate proven top guy in Brandon Marshall and the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Jeffery gives Jay Cutler another big target.
Earl Bennett, who got a new deal last season, is the glue guy, the classic third-down slot receiver, and Johnny Knox is out for the time being as he recovers from back surgery. The other receivers are fill-in guys. But what’s Hester’s role on offense now?
“This year, I’m going to be a playmaker, put it that way,” Hester said. “I’m going to make big plays. That’s what I’m here for, to make plays. and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Hester’s playmaking skills are beyond reproach. He’s the NFL career leader in combined return touchdowns and punt returns. But as a receiver, he’s never quite made the jump. Last season was a step back, though it wasn’t all his fault, given the ugly breakdown of the offense in the last six games.
Hester caught just 26 passes for 369 yards and one touchdown last season when he also battled chest and ankle injuries but didn't miss a game. After Cutler got injured against San Diego, he caught four passes in the team’s 1-5 finish, three coming in one game. It was his worst receiving year since 2007, when he first moved to the position.
While all the players often raved about Mike Martz’s schemes in public, Hester wasn’t shy about expressing his preference for the new offensive coordinator, the more relatable Mike Tice.
“i love Mike Tice,” he said. “He brings a lot of energy and excitement to the offense, not only as a player, but as a person. When you get a coach like that, that’s more sociable to the players, it makes you want to give more effort to a coach like that, that’s as energized as you are.”
While Jeffery has the size and skills to make an immediate impact, he is just a rookie. Marshall is the X-factor. He comes with big expectations and Hester expects commensurate results for the entire offense.
“It’s going to be a big help. Tremendous,” he said. “Brandon is a guy who teams are going to have to key in on, and it’s just going to open up a lot for other guys. And when guys start making plays and double coverage rolls on them, that’s when Brandon comes back and gets in that beast mode. With the offense we’re putting together, it’s going to be hard to just double-team and play cover two, because we got two great running backs that’s going to run it down their throats.”
Hester said he’s spent some time with Marshall. Hester, an avowed family man now, spoke of uniting the receivers spiritually, and he's already done that with Marshall.
“He’s been over my house, I’d say three or four times since he’s been here,” Hester said. “Just me and him. We go down to the basement and shoot pool. He’s more into (being) spiritual now. We talk about Jesus, the Bible and stuff. He’s changing his life a lot. I can honestly say that he’s a changed man from the past. Everyone makes mistakes, you know, but giving him a second chance, the things he’s doing right now, he’s really changing his life around.”
Bears fans will settle for just changing the offense. Marshall and Jeffery are a good start, but with Knox out, the Bears still need Hester to be a playmaker.
Devin Hester like the pick of Alshon Jeffery and is ready to be a 'playmaker.'