- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Despite comments indicating a possible desire to retire in the wake of the firing of former head coach Lovie Smith, veteran Bears return man Devin Hester admitted Thursday his remarks came as a result of overwhelming emotion, not his true intentions.
Upon hearing the news of Smith's firing back in December, Hester, clearly distraught, said, “I don't even know if I want to play again. That's been something on my mind for two years. It's not (much fun anymore). I've got my workers comp papers in my pocket. I'm going to go home and talk to my wife, and talk to my family and see where we go from there.”
Obviously, Hester determined a return to the football field was the best course of action.
“That was in the past,” Hester said. “At the same time, people were just emotional, upset. So I would say that (my remarks were) emotion and upset coming out of me. I really wasn't thinking about what I was saying. That's in the past. You say things you really don't mean when you're upset. That's how it was.”
Now, Hester is in a better state emotionally with the new regime limiting him strictly to duties on special teams, after spending the majority of his career also moonlighting at receiver. Hester holds the NFL record for career kick return touchdowns (17), and career punt return TDs (12) and needs one more return TD to tie Deion Sanders for the most overall.
A missed field goal returned for a touchdown gives Hester 18 total return TDs.
What sold Hester on his new stripped-down duties as a specialist was simply the new regime's desire to see him succeed.
“They want to see me do good,” Hester said. “Whatever it takes to bring the special teams back, the return game back to what we used to have, they really, really wanted that. They told me, ‘This is your passion. You know what you're good at. You know what you're great at. Let's get it back to what it was.'”
That's all Hester needed to hear. In his new role, Hester spends all of his times with the specialists and special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis. Hester no longer participates in meetings with the club's receivers. Asked if he missed it, Hester said, “Not at all.”
In Hester's role as solely a specialist, he'll also receive opportunities to contribute on kick coverage teams as a gunner.
“We'll see. It'll be fun," he said. "It's something I haven't done in a while, but at the same time, I'm a team ballplayer, and whatever these guys need me, that's where I'm gonna fit."
Hester hasn't burned a defense for a return touchdown since the 2011 season, when he scored two TDs on punt returns and another on a kickoff. Hester once endured a two-year drought without a return score (2008 and 2009).
He's not expecting another scoreless season on returns in 2013.
“It's not only me, but the special-teams unit as well (that needs to return to what it used to be),” Hester said. “These (new coaches) are putting together a great group of guys on the special teams unit from the assignments to the players, and that's what we've been missing.”