LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It turns out the concept of the much anticipated 'Devin Hester package' of plays had been floated to Pro Bowl return man as early as 2007, the first season he transitioned from cornerback to wide receiver. But over the past five seasons, the plan to build Hester a unique role in the Bears' offense never materialized. It sounds as though that changed when Mike Tice was hired as the club's new offensive coordinator early this offseason.
"This offense, I really do truly think that Mike Tice and (quarterbacks coach) Jeremy Bates and those guys really want to put this in this year," Hester said Wednesday. "I'm looking forward to it and Mike Tice is more excited than anybody in this organization about putting in this Hester package. So if anybody, he's the guy that's going to control that."
Hester provided a simple definition of the 'Hester package' without going into great detail.
"Just getting the athlete the ball," Hester said. "Getting the guy who you know can do a lot of damage with the ball in his hands ... getting him the ball regularly.'
"I can go a season with 40 catches ... the way the offense is designed I only need about 40 to 50 catches and I can get close to 800 or 900 yards receiving. With this offense you might not have a lot of balls but you're going to have a lot of big plays."
Hester caught 20 balls in 2007 in a limited role, but became a staple in the Bears' starting lineup the next several seasons. In 2009, he set career highs with 57 receptions for 757 yards. But his numbers began to dip the following season when he made 40 grabs for 475 yards. Then the bottom appeared to fall out for Hester last season when he managed to haul in only 26 passes for 369 yards, his lowest totals since 2007.
Hester, however, believes those statistics are misleading. Apparently, so does new Bears Pro Bowl wideout Brandon Marshall, who along with quarterback Jay Cutler, has raved about Hester's performance in the club's offseason program to date.
"It's tough when you're listed as the No. 1 receiver and you don't have the stats," Hester said. "I know the media, that's what you all go off of is stats and you really don't know what type of player this guy is. That's the mentality he (Marshall) came with from what he heard and seeing the stats that I wasn't able to put up 1,000 receiving yards. But when you go out each and every day and you watch a guy and see how good he really can be, then you know if the ball is thrown his way 20 times you know what type of player he is. Just from these past couple of weeks of seeing our route running with the quarterbacks, and our individual route running, he's seen what type of guy I am as a receiver.'
"Brandon is going to attract a lot of attention from the defense. There is going to be a situation where he is going to get double coverage and it's going to leave me backside one-on-one (with the defender). When I come up and start making big plays the coverage is going to start rolling to my side and that's when it's going to open up for him. It's going to be a rotation. I don't think every week it's going to be a bunch of guys making big plays. This receiver group is going to alternate each and every week. There is going to be one week where Brandon might catch 20 balls, then the next two weeks he might catch one or two balls, then Earl (Bennett) or somebody might come up with a 20 (catch) game. This offense is going to be divided into a bunch of balls going around. Everybody is going to have their fair share of balls."
Precisely how the Bears plan to use Hester remains to be seen, but he did substantial work in the slot during Wednesday's OTA. That would mark a departure for Hester who previously lined up mostly outside at the Z position.
"It's pretty much easier in the slot," Hester said. "You're running your route off a third-string cornerback. Playing the slot, you kind of get an easier read on the defense."
Regardless of where Hester lines up on the field, he is convinced the package of plays will allow him to be a key figure in the offense, despite the offseason upgrades to the passing game. Not only did the Bears trade for Marshall, considered one of the NFL's elite receivers, they also traded up in the second round to select 6-foot-4 Alshon Jeffery out of South Carolina. Factor in the reliable Bennett, free agent signings Eric Weems and Devin Thomas, plus holdover Dane Sanzenbacher, and the Bears' picture at wide receiver is crowded as ever, even with Johnny Knox a question mark to play in 2012.
"That's my mentality every year is to be a top notch receiver in this league," Hester said. "Regardless if it comes from deep balls or catching hitches and making big plays. That's my whole mentality. I'm just looking at myself as a playmaker...whenever I get an opportunity to make plays that's what I'm going to do.'
"This offense is built around explosiveness, big plays. It's going to be a lot of rotation going in (and out of the game). It's going to be getting the ball quick and seeing what the playmakers can do with the ball in their hands."